A Shropshire Lad by John Betjeman


Matthew Webb Killed in the Whirlpool Rapids July 24 1883. Image courtesy of Niagara Falls Public Library

The gas was on in the Institute,
The flare was up in the gym,
A man was running a mineral line,
A lass was singing a hymn,
When Captain Webb the Dawley man,
Captain Webb from Dawley,
Came swimming along the old canal
That carried the bricks to Lawley.
Swimming along –
Swimming along –
Swimming along from Severn,
And paying a call at Dawley Bank while swimming along to Heaven.

The sun shone low on the railway line
And over the bricks and stacks
And in at the upstairs windows
Of the Dawley houses’ backs
When we saw the ghost of Captain Webb,
Webb in a water sheeting,
Come dripping along in a bathing dress
To the Saturday evening meeting.
Dripping along –
Dripping along –
To the Congregational Hall;
Dripping and still he rose over the sill and faded away in a wall.

There wasn’t a man in Oakengates
That hadn’t got hold of the tale,
And over the valley in Ironbridge,
And round by Coalbrookdale,
How Captain Webb the Dawley man,
Captain Webb from Dawley,
Rose rigid and dead from the old canal
That carries the bricks to Lawley.
Rigid and dead –
Rigid and dead –
To the Saturday congregation,
Paying a call at Dawley Bank on the way to his destination.

Source: Betjeman’s Banana Blush: Sir John Betjeman the Poet Laureate Reads His Verse.  Charisma Records, 1973.

Read about Sir John Betjeman

Captain Matthew Webb was a world-renowned swimmer who attempted to swim the Whirlpool Rapids at Niagara Falls on July 24, 1883. He is buried in Oakwood Cemetery, Niagara Falls, New York. Read about Captain Webb here.

Click here for another story about Webb’s ghost

Niagara’s Charms and Death of Webb by James McIntyre


Matthew Webb killed in the Whirlpool Rapids July 24 1883. Courtesy of Niagara Falls Public Library

Gazing on rapids mighty sea,
Struggling fiercely to be free,
But drawn downwards in its course
By gravitation’s wondrous force,
O’er those perpendicular walls,
Hurled ’mong mighty rocks it falls,
Causing the earth to throb and shake
Like to the tremor of earthquake.

Thus the world’s greatest wonder
Reverberates like peals of thunder,
Enshrined with mist and beauteous glow
Of varied tints of the rainbow,
Most glorious sight the human eye
Hath ever seen beneath the sky,
Along these banks none ever trod
But did feel grateful to his God,
For lavishing with bounteous hand
Glories majestic and so grand.

The foaming billows soon are seen
Transformed into a beauteous green,
Plunged by whirlpools dread commotion
It becomes a seething ocean,
Where furies join in surging dance
From centre to circumference,
This is the favorite abode
Of Neptune, mightiest sea God,
He hath decreed none shall survive
Who will into this vortex dive.

Webb swam the English channel brave,
Like seabird he did love to lave
His breast upon the mightiest wave,
Alas, found here a watery grave;
Torrent onward rushes frantic
On its course to the Atlantic,
But on its way doth gently flow
Through blue lake Ontario,
Rejoicing on its way it smiles,
Kissing the shores of Thousand Isles,
Mingling with St. Lawrance motion,
It soon is blended with the ocean.

Source: Niagara’s Charms and Death of Webb was published in McIntyre, James. Poems of James McIntyre.  Ingersoll: The Chronicle, 1889.

Biography of James McIntyre in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography.