Sand-bed, they said. And gravel-bed. Before
I knew river shallows or river pleasures
I knew the ore of longing in those words.
The places I go back to have not failed
But will not last. Waist-deep in cow-parsley,
I re-enter the swim, riding or quelling
The very currents memory is composed of,
Everything accumulated ever
As I took squarings from the tops of bridges
Or the banks of self at evening.
Lick of fear. Sweet transience. Flirt and splash.
Crumpled flow the sky-dipped willows trailed in.
—Seamus Heaney, section xli from “Squarings” in Opened Ground: Selected Poems 1966-1996 (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1998)
Painting: Joseph Mallord William Turner, Willows Beside a Stream, 1805
I try to describe you to the river. I say you’re a snag—
Something the river can understand—catching my heart,
That I’m rowing without oars, that this is some trip,
Never able to leave you, bracing hard against swirls
That confuse me, that the whole ghostly place seems like a trap
Without bait, that nothing arrives anyplace near
Where you and I once wanted to be.
—Landis Everson, from “The Little Ghosts I Played With” in Everything Preserved: Poems 1955-2005 (Graywolf Press, 2006)
I want to sit by the bank of the river,
in the shade of the evergreen tree,
And look in the face of whatever,
the whatever that’s waiting for me.
Charles Wright, from “The Other Side of the River” in The Other Side of the River (Vintage Books, 1984)
Painting: Barbara Reich, Turning River, n.d.
And today I read how the Mississippi
flows away from itself at three miles an hour—
I had never given water’s speed
a moment’s time, not when it was a calm murmur,
but I thought then, walking home,
fixing in my mind this greenness pushing up from earth
like veneration, I thought then
to tell you how your blood could best a mighty river.
Paul Guest, from “Veneration” in Notes for My Body Double (University of Nebraska Press, 2007)
Photograph: Detroit Photographic Co., Mississippi River from Indian Mounds Park, St. Paul, Minnesota, 1898
I would love to live
Like a river flows
Carried by the surprise
Of its own unfolding.
John O’Donohue, from Conamara Blues (Cliff Street Books, 2001)
Painting: Nadia Minic, Tribute to John O’Donohue, 2012
Yes, it could be that I am a tiny piece of God, and
each of you too, or at least
of his intention and his hope.
Which is a delight beyond measure.
I don’t know how you get to suspect such an idea.
I only know that the river kept singing.
It wasn’t a persuasion, it was all the river’s own
which was better by far than a lecture, which was
comfortable, exciting, unforgettable.
Mary Oliver, closing strophe in section 2 of “At the River Clarion” from Evidence (Beacon Press, 2009)
Painting: Henri Moret, A Ford, Pont-Aven River, 1899
“A true conservationist is a [person] who knows that the world is not given by his [or her] fathers but borrowed from his [or her] children.”
John James Audubon
Photograph: Lower Lewis River Falls, located on the Lewis River in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Skamania County, Washington, October 19, 2009.
Photographer: Scott Weber
I felt both pleasure and a shiver
as we undressed on the slippery bank
and then plunged into the wild river.
I waded in; she entered as a diver.
Watching her pale flanks slice the dark
I felt both pleasure and a shiver.
Was this a source of the lake we sought, giver
of itself to that vast, blue expanse?
We’d learn by plunging into the wild river
and letting the current take us wherever
it willed. I had that yielding to thank
for how I felt both pleasure and a shiver.
But what she felt and saw I’ll never
know: separate bodies taking the same risk
by plunging together into the wild river.
Later, past the rapids, we paused to consider
if chance or destiny had brought us here;
whether it was more than pleasure and a shiver
we’d found by plunging into the wild river.
Gregory Orr, “The River” from The Caged Owl: New and Selected Poems (Copper Canyon Press, 2002)
“Pick a piece of wood floating in the river and follow it down the current with your glance, keeping the eyes constantly on it, without getting ahead of the current. This is the way poetry should be read: at the pace of a line.”
Vera Pavlova, from “Heaven Is Not Verbose: A Notebook” in Poetry (vol. CC no. I, April 2012)
Translated from the Russian by Steven Seymour
And somewhere below the light bevel
of its watercourse an undercurrent
quarries through acres of sand, gouging out
a barge road in mute, invisible, in-
cessant bursts, which is how we imagine
conscience works, rivering the mind until
the mind’s capacities are shaped by it.
Sherod Santos, section II from “Wing Dike at Low Water” in The Pilot Star Elegies (W. W. Norton & Co., 1999)
Photograph: The Missouri River at daybreak (specific location and photographer not identified)
“There is great pleasure in discovering a river; but sometimes serendipitous discoveries please the most. There are rivers that simply must be stumbled upon …”
Ted Leeson, from The Habit of Rivers (Lyons Press, 2006)
Photograph: an unidentified spot from one of the three rivers (Argentina, Capriolo, & Corte) whose confluence is located near Triora, Italy.