This morning we went for a walk alongside a river out of the town where we live and my wife, who has lived most of her life here, said that she recalled the river running clean.
It no longer does: there is too much runoff from the farms and forests: there is too much clear felling.
But this sonnet reminds me of the Four Quartets. Eliot wrote later: and he read widely
I do not know much about gods; but I think that the river
Is a strong brown god—sullen, untamed and intractable,
Patient to some degree, at first recognised as a frontier;
Useful, untrustworthy, as a conveyor of commerce;
Then only a problem confronting the builder of bridges.
The problem once solved, the brown god is almost forgotten
By the dwellers in cities—ever, however, implacable.
Keeping his seasons and rages, destroyer, reminder
Of what men choose to forget.
The river of the sonnet is no strong brown God. It is ancient, and forgotten. Belloc has a parallel image: that of the church. Which is ancient, and the elite want it forgotten.
Mother of all my cities once there lay
About your weedy wharves an orient shower
Of spice and languorous silk and all the dower
That Ocean gave you on his bridal day.
And now the youth and age have passed away
And all the sail superb and all the power ;
Your time’s a time of memory like that hour
Just after sunset, wonderful and grey.
Too tired to rise and much too sad to weep,
With strong arm nerveless on a nerveless knee,
Still to your slumbering ears the spousal deep
Murmurs his thoughts of eld eternally ;
But your soul wakes not from its holy sleep
Dreaming of dead delights beside a tideless sea.
But this we shall not forget. And this is why there is poetry, in the old forms, on this blog.