Bottomless pits. There’s one in Castleton,
and stout upholders of our law and order
one day thought its depth worth wagering on
and borrowed a convict hush-hush from his warder
and winched him down; and back, flayed, grey, mad, dumb.
Not even a good flogging made him holler!
O gentlemen, a better way to plumb
the depths of Britain’s dangling a scholar,
say, here at the booming shaft at Towanroath,
now National Trust, a place where they got tin,
those gentlemen who silenced the men’s oath
and killed the language that they swore it in.
The dumb go down in history and disappear
and not one gentleman ’s been brought to book:
Mes den hep tavas a-gollas y dyr
_ _ ‘the tongueless man gets his land took.’
Tony Harrison was born in Leeds in 1937 and read Classics at the University of Leeds. After spending four years in West Africa and a year in Prague, he returned to England to become the first Northern Arts Literary Fellow, 1967–68. His collection of poems The Loiners was awarded the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize in 1972. He has translated a number of works for the National Theatre, including The Misanthrope and the Oresteia. (updated 1983)