from Storied Rivers
the pockmarked skin of Cockpit Country, rivers are born in limestone wombs.
Having been dissolved and collapsed by runoff from the hills, the terrain
looks to the eye as a honeycombed eel - twisting its way through the
patchwork of green - filigreed by arcs of burnished light.
beneath the water's blue back, the silt is stirred and pestled into history,
each layer pressed beneath a latter-day weight. Folded in that is the moon's
redress and the composite cry from the trees. Paper cranes with crisp white
feathers write Isis with their beaks on the bank.
turn their necks as the river emerges to carry their whispers to rushes
That a river might
emerge as a metaphor for the mind, suggests there's probably something in
it. A rusted brace, binding the
two, might not then reflect a hackneyed phrase. And anyway, the ubiquities of
those like 'a torrent of thoughts' or 'flood of emotions', don't necessarily
etch the latter with fluvial notes.
dozens of others: one being something like an organic and self-sustaining
computer - or am I making that up? 'Writer's block' sounds like a plumbing
metaphor to me, but that still relates it to the movement of water, as though
moving water was something to aspire to be.
think about it, that's quite an assumption. Buddhists tend to aspire instead
to motionless bodies of water as positive metaphors for a mature mind. I'm
not sure how you feel about Tolkein but he described one of his villains as
having 'a mind of metal', with wheels and gears for roots and branches.
dendritic in structure, like trees, but perhaps it's too easy to conceive
that our minds should behave like a tree or river. Are our minds likely to
behave that way if they had been nurtured in an industrialised landscape?
The ratio of
a river's length to its direct distance from source to estuary is Pi. That
means that far from being a good metaphor for free meanderings, a river's
course is pretty foreordained and evidences determinism in nature, like the
shell of a nautilus or petals of a sunflower.
I was intrigued by
the phrase: 'A river will curb the spread of an entire city'. This was to me
suggestive of tension and conflict, which can be between all kinds of things:
reason and passion for example.
A city may be
like the material, the formal structure and 'matter'. Thoughts, which limit
the impact of that structure, are like a river: emergent properties stemming
from a concrete source, but ultimately and surely cleaving their own course.
to reflect the opposite that we expect of the thoughts their surroundings
inspire. Bearing in mind that the apparent lumbering of a river, close to its
estuary, is actually where it flows fastest.
Up in the
mountains, far from human ambition (or 'deep from human vanity' as Thomas
Hardy wrote), the rivulets and brooks that begin a river's course seem
frenetic and urgent, as though trying impatiently to resolve themselves.
associate places like that with freedom from the rat race, with the ability
to think clearly, slowly and in a manner attuned to the ambitionlessness of
nature. By contrast, the busyness of London, the scurrying and overclocked
fidgeting of it, is tempered by the steady Thames, groaning almost
imperceptibly through the clay.
always interests me to think about - urban rivers seem so relaxed and
London used to have dozens of rivers
above ground, all with wonderfully suggestive names. There's the Peck after
which Peckham is derived: the Neckinger, at whose mouth criminals were
hanged: the Ravensbourne, which runs down to Sydenham, the Fleet (the largest),
which runs from the Heath and others.
They're all still
there, but most often beneath your feet, having been moulded and steered into
sewers by the Victorians. Occasionally you catch a glimpse of one when it
surfaces: the Westbourne runs through an inconspicuous trough at Sloane
Square station. Hardly anyone knows it contains a river; it just looks like a
I guess the point
I'm trying to make is: some of the most storied rivers, like unwritten
thoughts, exist unseen.
A River (from A
A river will curb the spread of an entire city; will hedge the
spill of the morning rush, mete the rising trudge and sunless ebb - to
slapdash dinners and seven-hour sleep.
It will meet the salt chucks and breach those rougher pockets of memory.
While our minds fish thoughts from the rills and brooks; cradles for the weak
that have strayed behind.
In the city, five cranes, blinkered and clumsy, dip their vagrant lines for
docile scraps. Towers tussle beneath the ragged flag to silence that trudge
of hammering feet.
Noon by the Black River.
Sagged on the flat bank and domed beneath the sedges, an old toad cleaves the
mangroves with a devilish croak. His forearms are bowed to make room for his
throat to bulge like the bellows of a blessed fire - puffing smoke from the
charred rigging of a hallowed pyre.
The river takes its name from the hue of its dregs, then blends at Middle
Quarters in a brackish morass. Fishermen peer from the flanks of their boats
and lower their baskets to the water. Pairs of wet hands, pulling at the
traps, cradle the voyage of early slaves.
Come evening, three hundred years and a haul of shrimp lay netted and drying
on the sands.