In which the rivers of London are biding their time

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I went to London this weekend to see a friend.  This made me think about a poem I studied years ago in an English class at  school about the hidden rivers of the city, buried deep beneath the streets and buildings.  I couldn’t remember the author or title, which made finding it a little tricky, but thanks to the power of t’internet a couple of random searches have finally revealed it in its entirety.

Rising Damp, by U.A. Fanthorpe

At our feet they lie low,
The little ferment underground
Rivers of London
Effra, Graveney, Falcon, Quaggy,
Wandle, Walbrook, Tyburn, Fleet
Whose names are disfigured,
Frayed, effaced.

These 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 source below

Phlegethon, Acheron, Lethe, Styx.

I love the imagery of the rivers being alive and waiting, dormant beneath the surface, and coming back one day to reclaim their territory.

Perhaps I am better off living where I do.

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