The Waters of Leith

3 September 2023

Edinburgh’s Water of Leith flows through the city on its course from the Pentland Hills to the Firth of Forth. We walked along its banks today, enjoying the dappled shade and the sound of birds and water.

There were many moments when we could have sworn we were in Woodhaugh, Dunedin, walking along the banks of the southern city’s Water of Leith.

Dunedin’s Water of Leith originates high above the city and finds its way to the harbour basin by wending its way through Leith Valley, Woodhaugh and the University of Otago campus. Its Māori name is Ōwheo, which recalls Wheo, a chief whose home was near the river’s mouth.

Here is my poem ‘Ōwheo’, which I am reading riverside on the banks of Edinburgh’s Water of Leith.


How strange it is, a river, made of motion,
made of air, the way it’s every moment

its own catchment and its own release,
full presence, incomplete trajectory,

each rill containing every upstream rill,
each ripple-surge a leading edge that,

in the instant of its observation, dissolves,
pours forward and entirely follows, source

and seeking – both – with all it was
propelling all its going, so that the current

singing to the clock tower from the weirs
is more than it appears, and utters it, karakia

to the summit’s wind, the moon, the stars,
the cap cloud streaming over Cargill,

so that to cross Ōwheo on the footbridge is to cross

dawn chorus, evening roost, the ruru,
frost-beaded moss, five-finger, broadleaf, fern,

whip-tailed kōura in the dappled burn,
deleatidium, smelt, a fuchsia flower afloat,

the ghostly chunk-chunk-chunk
of watermills, and hammer-echo, axe,

the pin-point glow shone in by fungus gnats
from mucus droplets strung on silk

the footprints of a mayfly strutting
on the pollen-dusted riverskin – is to cross

a long kōrero, whose strands and trails
and traces whisper, babble, surface, disappear,

a telling in the valley of its knowing,
if we would but learn to hear.

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1 Comment
    1. Aah, that’s lovely Sue. Evocative yet inaudible to industrial types.

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