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Rising Damp

Page history last edited by Ann Vipond 3 years, 4 months ago

Rising Damp


'A river can sometimes by diverted but is a very hard thing to lose alogether.'

                                                                                Paper to the Auctioneers' Institute, 1907

At our feet they lie low,
The little fervent underground
Rivers of London


Effra, Graveney, Falcon, Quaggy,
Wandle, Walbrook, Tyburn, Fleet


Whose names are disfigured,
Frayed, effaced.


There are the Magogs that chewed the clay
To the basin that London nestles in.
These are the currents that chiselled the city,

That washed the clothes and turned the mills,
Where children drank and salmon swam
And wells were holy.


They have gone under.
Boxed, like the magician’s assistant.
Buried alive in earth.
Forgotten, like the dead.


They return spectrally after heavy rain,
Confounding suburban gardens. They infiltrate
Chronic bronchitis statistics. A silken
Slur haunts dwellings by shrouded
Watercourses, and is taken
For the footing of the dead.


Being of our world, they will return
(Westbourne, caged at Sloane Square,
Will jack from his box),
Will deluge cellars, detonate manholes,
Plant effluent on our faces,
Sink the city.


Effra, Graveney, Falcon, Quaggy,
Wandle, Walbrook, Tyburn, Fleet


It is the other rivers that lie

Lower, that touch us only in dreams
That never surface. We feel their tug
As a dowser’s rod bends to the surface below


Phlegethon, Acheron, Lethe, Styx


U. A. Fanthorpe




'"Born in 1929, Fanthorpe is an interesting poet, sophisticated and witty, but also has enormous compassion, and profound historical reflection. She has worked both as a teacher and a hospital clerk, and her poems breathe a deeply English feel for the countryside."


"Poetry has had its didactic moments in the past, but these days poems which explain too much don't feel right. The spirit of the age responds to poems better if they reveal or suggest. Without putting us off, this poem has to provide information we might not otherwise know (the presence of these underground rivers in London), in order to get across its insight: what such rivers might mean imaginatively, or symbolise, about ourselves."


'Lie low' in the first line (returning in the last stanza and last word, lie lower, below), and returning in the second both draw on the language of criminals as well as rivers.'


'The rivers are first characterised by 'fervent, which prepares us for their eventual connection with deep emotion in the last STANZA which beings to our attention (since the poem is about something (rising' from a hiding place) both the Greek mythic underworld and the underworld of our own psyches..'


The poem starts personifying these rivers by giving us their name in song like, craggy litany. Then it calls them Magogs, which puts a new spin on the criminality theme. For in the Book of Revelation, Gog and Magog are enemies of God, while in British legend they are bad giant: giants who have been defeated in the past, but like the Iitan under Vesuvius in Greek myth, are not dead but only sleeping. They live on in the English landscape as hills.


As criminals, then, their past acts are characterised by aggressive verbs: 'chewed.' 'chiseled' the basin where the city 'nestles' so trustful, and still comparatively so young. Nature's violence made a cradle for civilisation, but it has not gone away. Like Titans and criminals, these rivers have gone to ground; gone under.'


'And, like ghosts, they return spectrally. Like spies' they 'infiltrate', causiong illness (chronic bronchitis statists, Fanthorpe's hospital vision of pain masked by bureaucratic-speak)....'


It's a fine poem which I hope you will appreciate.




              52 WAYS OF LOOKING AT A POEM 

               a poem for every week of the year       Publ Vantage pp 125-129


               IBSN  9 78OO99 429159 


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