So here’s the last (unless I have afterthoughts) of my mini-series about environments or types of places that help to inspire my poems and feature in them. Hmm… maybe forest? We’ll see. Anyway, this is about rivers.
Many poets have been fascinated by rivers – fast ones, slow ones, big ones, small ones. They’re beautiful and varied. The habitat along the river keeps changing as you go up or downriver. W.H. Auden referred to “One of man’s oldest joys/ Exactly as it was, the water noise” and I suppose he was right: early humanoids would have liked the sound of flowing water because it meant drink and food. Rivers unite and create valleys but divide communities, even states. They require bridges – a recurrent image in my poems partly because I feel I’m a kind of bridge.
It isn’t true, as one poet had it, that the stream or river goes on forever: in geological time, all rivers have a birth and a death; but they’re long-lived even though the water is moving on. Rivers stand for life and for change.
To travel down a river can be a metaphor for living a life. So why have I enjoyed travelling up rivers – just because I love the hills around the source?
There’s something weirdly wonderful about the source of a river. Here is this small spring, this trickle, this undistinguished patch of boggy ground, this slight dip among high rocks – the beginning of a major river.
When rivers near the sea they become estuaries – the borderland between river and sea. Unless destroyed by development, these are marvellous places for birds and all kinds of wildlife. They change drastically with the tide. Nowhere for me can convey more strongly the sense of inhabiting a land between two worlds.