Alwyn Marriage

Barbary pirates

In the early 17th century, Barbary pirates attacked
villages on the coast of Devon and Cornwall,
kidnapping people to work as slaves in North Africa.

There was no moon that night, but countless stars
clinging close together formed a path
leading to distant lands.

Dark and dusky as a winter’s twilight,
scores of strong and swarthy men
waded ashore from the sea’s roaring night.

We heard them coming, trembled as
the shush and crash of waves was drowned
by shouts of foreign voices,

shuddered as the pirate ships
scraped across the shingle
in search of Christian slaves.

We all had tales of fisherfolk who’d set to sea
and not returned, leaving the salt taste
of loss to linger on our lips.

The incoming tide had brought us rumours
of corsair pirates boarding English vessels
to claim our men and boys –

we’d lost so many valiant sailors
in recent months, but hadn’t known
such terror swamp our shore.

They came in on the swell to take
our best and dearest with them as they left
on the receding tide.

Women found no safety in the home,
nor was there refuge in our village church
despite the beacon blazing from its tower

warning us of danger, signalling our grief,
its light diminishing as they left, to sail away
leaving our coast bereft.

she’s currently Managing Editor of Oversteps Books and research fellow at Surrey University.