Here we were on the Thames that is the Thames, amidst the down-like

country and all Cockneydom left far behind, and it was jolly!

– William Morris


On the Thames that is the Thames

Kelmscott to Kelmscott, House to Manor, borne

by the water’s shushing windrush, The Ark splits

the Thames along its length. Imagine a family,

two by two: parents and daughters, all stitched

with the same silver-blue threads. Imagine how

the weight of their bodies, their cargo of dreams,

is spread, evenlode, through the wooden chambers

of the boat’s heart. Hear the rise and fall of gentle

rocking-song beneath them: cray-dlecray-dle

What pattern-work must have been printed, briefly,

onto the meniscus as they passed; a stylised ripple

of petals, a wandle of bramble and vine making

a lea below their bow. Imagine the travellers,

suspended medway between banks, their craft

a brown leaf on green stem, craning west-wey.

The river asks nothing of them, seeks news from

nowhere as its accent rolls from glottal-stopped

cockney to lodden-soft burr. You will soon be

home, Thames sings to itself as much as to those

it carries. You will soon be home, from home.




‘On the Thames that is the Thames’ was written in 2019 as a commission for the Pre-Raphaelite Society, after viewing an exhibition about William Morris and the River Thames at the River and Rowing Museum in Henley. In 1880 the Morris family (parents William and Jane, and daughters May and Jenny) travelled by houseboat (‘The Ark’) on the Thames from their London home, Kelmscott House in Hammersmith, to their Oxfordshire home, Kelmscott Manor. This poem contains the names of eight Morris designs named after Thames tributaries. Can you spot them all?


© Sarah Doyle