The Unattended Moment


The Bay from Castlebarrow, late evening.


Millennium Bridge over The Lune, Lancaster.

I do not know much about gods; but I think that the river
Is a strong brown god—sullen, untamed and intractable,
Patient to some degree, at first recognised as a frontier;
Useful, untrustworthy, as a conveyor of commerce;
Then only a problem confronting the builder of bridges.


Daffodils at Far Arnside.


High water in the bay again.

The river is within us, the sea is all about us;
The sea is the land’s edge also, the granite
Into which it reaches, the beaches where it tosses
Its hints of earlier and other creation:
The starfish, the horseshoe crab, the whale’s backbone;
The pools where it offers to our curiosity
The more delicate algae and the sea anemone.
It tosses up our losses, the torn seine,
The shattered lobsterpot, the broken oar
And the gear of foreign dead men. The sea has many voices,
Many gods and many voices.



The view from Park Point. With added whitecaps.


Looking to Grange-Over-Sands.


Looking south along the coast.


River Kent from Arnside Knott. Lake district hills lost in cloud.


River Lune. Ruskin’s view.


St. Mary’s Kirkby Lonsdale.


The Bay from Castlebarrow.



Arnside Tower.


Whitbarrow from Arnside Knott.


The River Kent from Arnside Knott again.


The bay and Humphrey Head from Arnside Knott.

For most of us, there is only the unattended
Moment, the moment in and out of time,
The distraction fit, lost in a shaft of sunlight,
The wild thyme unseen, or the winter lightning
Or the waterfall, or music heard so deeply
That it is not heard at all, but you are the music
While the music lasts.


Looking south along the coast.


Sunset from Emesgate Lane.


These last two images are actually videos. I don’t think they’ll work, because I’m too tight to fork out for a premium account. But click on the pictures and that should take you to the relevant flickr page where you can hear the sound of the wind and the breaking waves, some of the many voices of the sea, should you wish.


The photos here are mostly from the ‘leap day’ weekend at the end of February and the start of March, except for the first which is from earlier that week.

The quotations are all from ‘The Dry Salvages’, which is the third of T.S.Elliot’s Four Quartets. To be honest, I stumbled across it when looking for something about the sea – or so I thought. It turns out, what I was really looking for was that passage about ‘the distraction fit’, ‘the unattended moment’. I’m sure I’ve read the poem before, but I’ve never been struck so forcibly by this section as I was on this occasion.

I remember trying to capture something like this idea in a post way back in the early days of the blog. Perhaps, in some ways, it’s always the ‘unattended moment’ I’m writing about, or seeking when I go out for yet another walk, or crawl around taking yet more photographs of orchids, or of leaves, waves, clouds etc when I have thousands of images of exactly those things already.

It seems entirely appropriate to me that Elliot’s examples of ‘distractions’ should end with music – anyone who’s been to a gig, or clubbing, with me and watched me throwing my ample, uncoordinated frame around, grinning like a loon, might have caught me in one of those moments, if they weren’t too lost in the music and the moment themselves. But equally, they might have shared a moment like that during a wild day in the hills, when, despite, or perhaps because of, adverse conditions, our enthusiasm bubbled over into unexplained laughter and broad smiles; equally I think of a few ‘wild’ swims which sparked the same kind of happy absorption, or quiet moments around a beach bonfire. I’m heaping up examples because I can’t really put my finger on what I’m driving at, but I know it when I feel it.

Usually happens when the horns come in during this tune, for example.

The Unattended Moment

12 thoughts on “The Unattended Moment

  1. Good to see some proper poetry after my amateur offerings recently. Referring back to the snow and ice course I attended in Glencoe back in 1969 which was aired recently on my blog, TS’s “unattended moment” or distraction brings back a memory.

    Sitting on a belay stance halfway up the climb and waiting (waiting on a belay can be a lonely, silent, prolonged vigil sometimes) and I am looking through an icicle giving a distorted view of a little loch far below. A memory that has stayed with me for fifty years when many others have dissolved in the ether.

    1. beatingthebounds says:

      I enjoyed your poem and your story about the climbing course was excellent. The closest I’ve got to climbing ‘royalty’ is attending talks by the likes of Doug Scott and John Cleare. I know I’ve been to others but for some reason those two have ‘stuck’.
      It’s funny how odd moments can abide from days on the hill isn’t it. I have a particularly cherished memory of reaching the top of Maol Chean Dearg south of Torridon on an unpromising day which had unexpectedly cleared, using old 1:50 OS maps which showed no crags at all, which posed quite a challenge when the top turned out to be well defended and was liberally plastered with snow in rather dodgy condition. I like an accurate map, but the rather vague old survey 1:50s could throw up some unexpected adventures.

    1. beatingthebounds says:

      Yes, it’s hard to beat a wild day by the sea. I’m guessing you get proper waves by you, not the tame little things we see here?

        1. beatingthebounds says:

          Oh – marvellous. When the weather was just too bad for the hills, Andy and I used to play a game of chicken which involved trying to get on to the rocks which were most briefly exposed from beneath the waves. Foolhardy to say the least. Shh – don’t tell my kids. I’m sure we had a name for it. Coastal plonking was trying to find a scrambling traverse where falling off would involve a dunking, but that’s not quite it. Andy?

          1. We used to call that game of chicken “Rock off”. I think the surf guys use that term for jumping in off rocks, but we weren’t that daft to get in off the rocks we just used to run back and forth towards the waves!

  2. Fascinating concept. Really got me thinking about my own unattended moments and odd memories from the hills that stick for reasons you perhaps don’t expect. One that sprang to mind was the Fannichs day. Having to stop and cower from a vicious hailstorm, waiting for it to pass and then realizing that I was absolutely loving it!

    1. beatingthebounds says:

      I had that in mind too. Quinag. Creag Meagaidh. Maol Chean Dearg – the first time I did it (out of three). The night that Uncle Fester spotted the Aurora at that New Year bothy. A cloud inversion on the Old Man of Coniston with brocken spectres. Another on Cul Mor. I could go on.

    1. beatingthebounds says:

      Sadly I can’t produce poetry like that! Who knows – maybe I’ll try my hand in the future…?

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