East Anglia has one of the fastest eroding coastlines in northern Europe. We have published extensively about the issue and the devastating effect this is having on coastal communities threatened with extinction. Nestled on the north Suffolk coast just south of Lowestoft, the village of Covehithe, with its seventeenth century church, is one such community. I first read Blake Morrison’s poem two years ago. At the time, its haunting imagery, describing the effects of the erosion, struck a chord in me and has stuck with me ever since.
This was the first of a series of poems about East Anglia, which we published to mark National Poetry Day in 2021. The region has inspired many poets, especially in Norfolk and Suffolk.
This is by Blake Morrison, visiting Professor of Literature at the University of Suffolk. It comes from his collection Shingle Street, set along the Suffolk coast, with poems addressing an eroding landscape, ‘abashed by the ocean’s passion’.
Covehithe was once a small town with its own dock (the “hithe”). It is the place on the East coast where coastal erosion is at its fastest. The church now stands 500 yards from the cliff, but it is expected to fall into the sea within this century.
The tides go in and out but the cliffs are stuck in reverse: back across the fields they creep, to the graves of Covehithe church.
From church to beach was once a hike. Today it's just a stroll. Soon it'll be a stone's throw.
And that path we took along the cliffs has itself been taken, by winter storms. The wheat's living on the edge.
What's to be done? I blame the dead in their grassy mounds, the sailors and fishermen
longing to be back at sea who since they can't get up and stride down to the beach entice the sea to come to them.