Verses on Tanfield Arch in the County of Durham
This is Robert Gilchrist's earliest known poem. It was written on 6 May 1815, only six weeks before the Battle of Waterloo.
How terrific the height, how great the span
Of Tanfield Arch, the wondrous work of man!
How fine its form bedew'd with ample grace
How grand the scenery around its base,
How green its banks, on which we may recline
And raise our thoughts to what is most sublime.
The Royal Oak here lifts his stately head
The murmuring brook runs murmuring o'er its bed;
Retirement hear doth form her calm retreat
And solitude here looks divinely sweet:
When from the Arch downward we cast our eyes
We stand aghast with horror and surprise
And back recoil less down we headward go
And lifeless fall upon the banks below,
The homicide, with hands embraced in blood
May look on here and learn what's wise and good;
The Atheist, if e'er this path he trod
May well revere his mighty maker, God
May Tanfield Arch for many ages stand,
Its rural beauties make the heart expand;
Long may the Royal Oak its walls entwine,
And long resist the mouldering hand of time!
The poem was produced during a walk close to home. It signals a 'suburban romanticism', rendering views from local beauty spots in a rural hinterland as restorative and inspirational places. In the poem Gilchrist delights in the Picturesque structure before him, a bridge built in 1725 for the passage of coal wagons, which bestrides the dell of Causey Burn, and to this day claims to be the oldest railway bridge in the world. The poem is typical of the solitary, therapeutic and creative pleasures which could be gained by venturing from the constraining environs of the workplace. Later works produced by Gilchrist also made use of the local and regional landscape. He would often walk with Mr Thomas Young, later author of British Literature, to local sites of interest and composed similar refrains. Gilchrist was a keen pedestrian. Longer journeys were made throughout the North of England, venturing to the Nent Valley and Hartside in Cumbria, and to Otterburn in Northumberland. A more ambitious trip in 1821 was made to the Grampian Mountains in Scotland in 1821, the result of a wager with the antiquarian Robert White. The 580 mile round trip, made wholly on foot, took Gilchrist to places popularised by pedestrian poets such as Wordsworth and Keats, Sir Walter Scott’s novels, William Gilpin’s guidebooks and ‘tours’ catering for the romantic traveller in search of the picturesque Highlands. The trips provided Gilchrist with changing landscapes that served as inspiration and several verses were penned on such visits.