Issac Levitan, Fog over Water, 1895
"We live day to day with little change in our perceptions, but I never go to a river that I do not see newly and freshly, that I do not learn, that I do not find a story […] No, those rivers are more. They are my Pilgrim Creek and Walden Pond, however briefly. Those rivers and their bounty—bright and wild—touch me and through me touch every person whom I meet. They are a metaphor for life. In their movement, in their varied glides, runs, and pools, in their inevitable progress toward the sea, they contain many of the secrets we seek to understand about ourselves, our purposes."
Nick Lyons, from “Bright Rivers,” in The Armchair Angler, ed. Terry Brykczynski and David Reuther (Macmillian, 1986)
[The god of the river] has watched the passing
of other boats, assemblages,
whose voyages bore down the currents
to the dark shores of their eyes
—and has forgotten them, innocent
of his seasonal wraths, his mischiefs
accomplished and portending, as his present
forbearance is innocent;
of his forgetting allows the sun
flows away, its blue and white
peeling off the green waves.
His mind contains
the river as its banks
constrain it, a single act
receiving it and letting it go.
Wendell Berry, closing lines to “Observance,” from New Collected Poems (Counter Point, 2012)
“It was late in April, with the river running fine and as clear as a young parson’s conscience.”
Tom Sutcliffe, M.D., from Reflections on Fly Fishing: Further Thoughts of a South African Flyfisherman (Mark and Ronald Basel, 1990)
I want, like a little boat, to be isolate,
slipping across one element
Toward the horizon, whose lips know something but stay sealed
under the heaven of the moon.
Charles Wright, from “Laguna Dantesca,” in The Southern Cross: Poems (Random House, 1981)
Akseli Gallen-Kallela, Boats on the Shore, 1884
They had come to see the salmon lunging and leaping
Up the white spillway, but the water was empty.
Now one young girl lingers behind the others,
And slowly, her thin arms held out from her sides,
Alone on the riverbank, she begins to dance.
Her body moves as the salmon would have moved
In place, holding that place in a soundless calm
Under a soundless frenzy of surfaces
Against a currently only she remembers
To welcome, to break through, to gather again.
The wind and the river pulse against her face
And under her feet. She listens to what they know
And moves her lips to find the mouth of the river
And the mouth of the slow wind against her mouth.
The source of the river and the source of the wind
Have taken her breath away. But the others come
Shaking their fingers, opening and closing
Their mouths, to take her back to another silence.
David Wagoner, “The Excursion of the Speech and Hearing Class” in The Vintage Book of Contemporary American Poetry, ed. J.D. McClatchy (Vintage, 2003
"One may love a river as soon as one sets eyes upon it; it may have certain features that fit instantly with one’s conception of beauty, or it may recall the qualities of some other river, well known and deeply loved. One may feel in the same way an instant affinity for a man or a woman and know that here is pleasure and warmth and the foundation of deep friendship. In either case the full riches of the discovery are not immediately released—they cannot be; only knowledge and close experience can release them. Rivers, I suppose, are not at all like human beings, but it is still possible to make apt comparisons; and this is one: understanding, whether instinctive and immediate or developing naturally through time or grown by conscious effort, is a necessary preliminary to love. Understanding of another human being can never be complete, but as it grows toward completeness, it become love almost inevitably. One cannot know intimately all the ways and movements of river without growing into love of it. And there is no exhaustion to the growth of love through knowledge, whether the love be for a person or a river, because the knowledge can never become complete."
Roderick Haig-Brown, from “To Know a River,” in A River Never Sleeps (Harold Ober Associates, 1946)
The river has told the grass again, a parable the day has forgotten by nine.
And by ten, at your desk, you’ve forgotten it, too.
A man so easily distracted
by himself. But what are you here for
and what do they love, if not the way you leave each day to change the
and return with the night, your fire spent, your face lined with secrets?
Mark Tredinnick, section 8 of “Eclogues,” from Fire Diary (Puncher and Wattman, 2010)
Salomon van Ruysdael, River Scene, 1632
Rhythm is just this oscilloscope of the soul. We come from a place that has always been inside us. Our words migrate helplessly. The world reflects only itself. Which is why we have to create our own memories […] Why do we think our metaphors will save us? The world is only itself. Time is just our way of imagining it.
Richard Jackson, from “About This Poem,” in Out of Place (Ashland Poetry Press, 2014)
“Have you also learned that secret from the river; that there is no such thing as time?” That the river is everywhere at the same time, at the source and at the mouth, at the waterfall, at the ferry, at the current, in the ocean and in the mountains, everywhere and that the present only exists for it, not the shadow of the past nor the shadow of the future.”
Hermann Hesse, from Siddhartha (New Directions, 1951, first published in 1922)
"Do I change like a river, widening and deepening, eddying back on myself sometimes, bursting my banks sometimes when there’s too much water, too much life in me, and sometimes dried up from lack of rain? Will the I that is me grow and widen and deepen? Or will I stagnate and become an arid riverbed? Will I allow people to dam me up and confine me to walls so that I flow only where they want? Will I allow them to turn me into a canal to use for they own purposes? Or will I make sure I flow freely, coursing my way through the land and ploughing a valley of my own?”
Aidian Chambers, from This is All: The Pillow Book of Cordelia Kenn (Harry N. Abrams, 2006)
Claude Monet, Sun Setting over the Seine at Lavacourt, Winter Effect, 1880