The Light that Plays on Water

Sarah Royston

September 26, 2022


The Light that Plays on Water

April 15, 1914

Visited Daisy and Thomas at Kilve. Met their guest, the Irish poet Connor Ross: as mesmerising interesting as everyone says. Thomas wished to recreate Wordsworth and Coleridge’s expedition to source of r. Holford. Unfortunately    A strange    I saw

The woods sang with green as we set out. Thomas and Connor strode ahead, deep in talk. Their collaboration might prove as revolutionary as the Lyrical Ballads — so Thomas said. It was exhilarating just to walk in their company.

My awkward artist’s satchel slowed me down.

“Why did you bring it?” Daisy asked.

“I hoped to paint Connor.” I flushed. I sounded like those women who fawned over him: admirers he despised. Daisy nodded.

“I’ll try to leave you with him later. If we can tear my husband away from their very important discussions.” Her smile faded. “Thomas is pinning all his hopes on this shared endeavour.”

“Did the critics dislike his last book?”

“Worse. They barely noticed it.”

The men waited at a stile. A sudden gust hurled tree-blossom around us. Daisy twirled among the petals.

“It’s like confetti thrown by someone who envies the bride.”

“Note that down,” Thomas said. “I might use it in The Lilies.”

“She’s the keen-eyed Dorothy to my William,” he told Connor. I didn’t mention that Dorothy was Wordsworth’s sister, not his wife. Or ask if there was a rôle for me in this Romantic masquerade.

We picnicked on the riverbank, beside a mass of white starwort and golden celandines.

“Look,” Daisy laughed, “a cartload of eggs that tipped over on a bend!”

Thomas shook his head: “Frivolous.” He waved a half-eaten apple. “The new poetry will be lyrical yet modern. Natural, but innovative. We are going back to the source, the pure spring of the word. Don’t you agree, Connor?”

Connor threw a pebble into the brook.

“A poem is not a river. Not even a ripple. But sometimes it is the light that plays upon the foam.”

I could have listened to him all day. Thomas seemed uncertain, then nodded firm agreement. Daisy pulled off her boots and socks and stepped into the water, hitching up her skirt. She perched on a rock, trailing her pale legs in the stream and tilting her face to the leaf-dappled light.

“You are a river-goddess,” Connor said. “Like blessed Bóinn or Sionainn of Eire.”

I tried to follow her but slipped on a stone. My ankle twisted hard and I limped back to the shore.

“I’ll rest here a while.”

Thomas snored beneath a tree. Connor watched the water. Before I could ask him to sit for me, he turned to Daisy.

“Come, let’s climb to the spring.”

She hesitated, then followed him up the narrow track.

I tried to paint the stream. Dancing glints congealed into livid blotches. Honey-shadowed deeps became a bleary wash of brown. Daisy’s laugh drifted from the coombe. Resentment flared, sharper than the pain in my foot. Gingerly I stood and hobbled up the path.

They lay beside a shallow pool. He was threading violets into her loosened hair. As I watched, he unbuttoned the neck of her shirt and drew a pen from his pocket. My skin tingled, as if it were my body paper-white beneath his hands. She bent her head to see his work. I ached to know what she read.

Sleet came, cold and hard. Daisy jumped up, fastening her clothes. I stumbled away, afraid to be seen. I was cramming paints into my satchel as they ran into the glade.

Thomas didn’t mention their absence. He hefted his knapsack.

“Looks like we’ll have to find the source another day!”

Daisy took her husband’s arm and they started down the hill. I followed with Connor, struggling to match his long stride. I’d dreamed of strolling with him, talking of Art. My words dripped away in the icy rain.

Thomas wrapped his coat round Daisy’s shoulders and his own. I thought of Connor’s ink, blurring on her skin. My painting forgotten by the stream, its colours running liquid into mud.

Silver Apples of the Moon

I should not have gone to the orchard. Thomas had asked me to darn his socks while he was writing upstairs. But Venus glittered through the window as if calling me away.

Though the sun had long since set, its kiss still lingered on the air. Connor leant on the garden’s far fence, looking out on lichen-silvered trees. Untenanted, the orchard was returning to the wild. Its blossom was luminous in the dusk.

As I approached, I heard him murmur, as if speaking to the trees: “And when white moths were on the wing, and moth-like stars were flickering out—”

He turned.

“Daisy, I didn’t see you there.”

“I’m sorry.”

“No, no. I was thinking of how Yeats conjures the darkling and the dawn. And now, by some enchantment, comes a glimmering girl, with apple blossom in her hair.”

He reached across the fence to a low-twisting bough, broke a spray of buds and tucked them behind my ear. I took a half-step back. A sheet of loose paper fell from his book.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“Anne sketched me today. When you were making copies of Thomas’ poem.”

“Show me.”

He hesitated, then handed me the picture. She had captured something of his eyes. How they made you long for his gaze, yet almost fear it too. On the back, I read: With all my heart, A.

I shivered in the cooling air.

“Did she — I mean, are you . . .”

He couldn’t meet my eye.

“She told me she loves me.”

Dusk’s fragile beauty dissolved into dark, as if it had been a dream. My voice was barely a whisper.

“And you?”


My heart beat fast. I turned away.

“I should go back. Thomas—”

“Come with me.”

He climbed the rotting fence, offered me his hand. I took it and followed.

A sea of lacy parsley frothed around our legs. Moon-bright clouds of blossom hung above our heads. The fences faded in an indigo haze. We walked in a shadow-land of silvery-green. Each step stirred flurries of moths from the grass. I spoke their names like a spell: “Cinnabar, Dusky Clearwing, Seraphim.”

He drew down a branch laden with flowers.

“This is the scent of the Isles of the Blessed. The trees guard it well. You have to seek it, grasp it, drink it like a Faerie draught. Quick now, before it is gone. The blossom is fleeting as the castles of the Sidhe.”

I pressed my face to the chalices. Close-up, their ivory was finely-veined with rose.

“Do you feel it, dear heart?” His voice was starry-soft. “Do you hear it calling you away?”

“I know the stories.” I closed my eyes. “Those who cross into that realm find, when they return, that all they loved is dust.”

“But taste the apples of those Isles, and you may not wish to leave.”

He drew me close. At the touch of his lips I surrendered to a dream — of twilight that never fades, petals that never fall.

Sarah Royston’s writing draws inspiration from nature, folklore and the landscapes of southern England. Her short fictions and poetry are published in Full House Lit, The Hyacinth Review, Noctivagant Press, Bear Creek Gazette, and Soor Ploom Press, among others. She lives in Hertfordshire, U.K., and in her day job works as a researcher on sustainability issues.