Sheaf Valley

What If?

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Andrew Motion was commissioned to write the poem on the side of Sheffield Hallam University for the Off the Shelf festival in 2007. It’s one of the most noticeable things that greets new visitors to the city arriving at the train station walking up Howard Street towards the centre.

O travellers from somewhere else to here,
Rising from Sheffield Station and Sheaf Square
To wander through the labyrinth of air.

Pause now, and let the sight of this sheer cliff
Become a priming-place which lifts you off
To speculate
What if..?
What if..?
What if..?

Cloud-shadows drag their hands across the white;
Rain prints the sudden darkness of its weight;
Sun falls and leaves the bleaching evidence of light.

Your thoughts are like this too: as fixed as words
Set down to decorate a blank facade
And yet, as words are too, all soon transferred

To greet and understand what lies ahead —
The city where your dreaming is re-paid,
The lives which wait unseen as yet, unread.

Sheffield’s own Jarvis Cocker has done a similar work on the more hidden away The Forge building on Boston Street.