ISAMBARD! The Epic
(extract - the Clifton Suspension Bridge)
Sculp’d in iron her delicate tracery
Floats o’er Avon’s tide
Brunel was long dead, ‘ere his plans went ahead
But the Clifton Suspension Bridge is still Bristol’s pride
Westwards Ho! went then this modern Odysseus, followed the route of the Invader, the Conqueror of these Isles; Saxons, Danes, Normans marched this route, pushed the natives off the rim of the Known into the mountains of Wales; or the gnashing sea.
Spat out of the belly of the Thames’s whale, he shook the clay from his feet, clambered on shore; he clamped a cheroot between his teeth, settled his stovepipe on his head, stuck his thumbs into his waistcoat.
His wide gaze took in Clifton, Bristol, the Avon Gorge; a place high above the sucking waters, where cliffs frowned on treacherous Avon as she writhed in her serpentine coils, aching for the open sea.
He stood, gazed – and submitted 4 designs.
From that very first emergence we are called,
impelled to heed;
we must travel to lands, unheard, unseen,
whose vague outlines shimmer always before us.
Will they host our dreams?
A bridge, the Burghers of Bristol wanted. But not any ‘bridge’.
A suspension bridge over the Avon Gorge at Clifton. The Great Telford pronounced on the designs. He threw them all out.
“Who is this young pup?” He snarled, “Brunel, indeed! Spans ranging from 760 to 1,180 feet?! Impossible! My Menai Bridge has a clear span of 600ft, The longest in the world. Ipso facto, the longest possible! I will not be outdone!”
“Oh, quite by chance, I happen to have my own design right here in my back pocket, Why don’t you commission me?”
Brunel threw in the towel, departed up North, seeking work, visited the Fair Ellen; the Bristolians threw Telford out, chose the young pup;
Skeined in iron his great bridge still in Bristol looms,
his ‘first child, his darling’. Outlined against cliff,
browbeating rock she soars from ridge to ridge;
far below tumbles muddy Avon, fecund with history;
her sullen tides bear the ghosts of slavers,
their press-ganged bullyboys chained to the idols of early globalism.
Commissioned for the Brunel200 (bicentenary) of 2006