One of the most moving poems in Wordsworth’s original 1798 Lyrical Ballads describes a penniless old man walking down a road so slow, so quiet, that he doesn’t even disturb the birds. This 21st Century re-write takes him time-travelling to busy modern Manchester.
The new ballad recasts the old man as a ‘slo-worm’ on a modern city street, battered by traffic roar. He staggers from lamppost to lamppost, pursued by traffic, by street predators – “a handsome street rat, bold hyaenas” — his memories, hallucinations, as he longs for the peaceful hedgerows of his past life.
This re-working of ‘Slo-worm’ into a song lyric was by a group of 11 people at Back on Track, a support venue in Manchester, NW England. The Slo-worm writers were: Delyth, Dionne, Dominic, Gary, Keiron, Kris, Maria, Nabeela, Paul, Roy, Stephanie. The poem was then put to music by songwriter Christine Johnson, to make a new lyrical ballad.
OLD MAN TRAVELLING / SLO-WORM Reach for the lamp-post Catch a breath, ache with Every counted step. Memories of pubs crawl past Handsome street rat has a laugh. Scattered shouts of bold hyaenas Klaxons and bells, emergency vehicles. On the high road swallows gathering Little hedgerow birds are pecking. And the cold iron bell is pealing A slow worm crawling, compass calling See the skyscraper hit the sky. See your youth in faces passing In the fluster of feathered wing. Flung from your world Back to theirs Tortoise lost among the hares. Lonely roads are your teacher, warning the future Christian preacher. See the skyscraper hit the sky; all swipe by, left and right. Earmuffs hear Invisible sound. Inner voices underground. Trams are weaving Webs of fungi threading in electric stimuli. Fear what you cannot see. Counting blackbirds in a tree [4 + 20, 4 + 20] Scattered shouts of bold hyaenas Klaxons and bells, emergency vehicles… (Written in collaboration with Christopher, Delyth, Dionne, Dominic, Gary, Kris, Kieron, Maria, Natalie, Nabeela, Paul, Roy, Stephanie)