Robert Stephen Hawker

‘The Tamar Spring’


The source of this storied river of the West is on a rushy knoll, in a moorland of this parish. The Torridge also flows from the self-same mound.

Fount of a rushing river! wild flowers wreathe
The home where thy first waters sunlight claim;
The lark sits hushed beside thee, while I breathe,
Sweet Tamar spring! the music of thy name.

On! through the goodly channel, on! to the sea!
Pass amid heathery vale, tall rock, fair bough:
But never more with footsteps pure and free,
Or face so meek with happiness as now.

Fair is the future scenery of thy days,
Thy course domestic, and thy paths of pride:
Depths that give back the soft-eyed violet’s gaze,
Shores where tall navies march to meet the tide.

Thine, leafy Tetcott, and those neighbouring walls,
Noble Northumberland’s embowered domain;
Thine, Cartha Martha, Morwell’s rocky falls,
Storied Cotehele, and Ocean’s loveliest plain.

Yet false the vision, and untrue the dream,
That lures thee from thy native wilds to stray;
A thousand griefs will mingle with that stream,
Unnumbered hearts shall sigh those waves away.

Scenes fierce with men, thy seaward current laves,
Harsh multitudes will throng thy gentle brink;
Back! with the grieving concourse of thy waves,
Home! to the waters of thy childhood shrink!

Thou heedest not! thy dream is of the shore,
Thy heart is quick with life; On! to the sea!
How will the voice of thy far streams implore
Again amid these peaceful weeds to be!

My Soul! my Soul! a happier choice be thine –
Thine the hushed valley, and the lonely sod;
False dreams, far vision, hollow hope resign,
Fast by our Tamar spring, alone with God!

*  *  *  *  *

From Cornish Ballads & Other Poems by R. S. Hawker, edited by C. E. Byles, John Lane 1904. Byles provides the following footnote:

This poem is entitled “That Ancient River,” with reference to Judges v. 21, in Ecclesia, 1840, and Mr. Godwin, therefore, assigned that date to its production: it is quoted in Footprints of Former Men, 1870, and in The Cornish Ballads, 1869. It was, however, first printed in the second series of Records of the Western Shore, 1836, as “The Source of the Tamar,” with some verbal differences.

The Tamar rises in a ditch on the south side of a lane leading from Woolley Cross to Bradworthy, about 100 yards from the old Moorwinstow/Bradworthy boundary marker. Whether Hawker’s description of the Torridge ‘flowing from the self same mound’ was ever completely accurate is debatable – nowadays that river rises in an inaccessible-looking area to the north of the road, quite some distance from the Tamar spring.

Photos © Angela Williams, 2010


Cornish Ballads and Other Poems at the Open Library

– Rivers of Bradworthy: sources of the Tamar and Torridge