Poetry blogging: ‘The River God’ by Stevie Smith


Of the River Mimram in Hertfordshire

I may be smelly and I may be old,

Rough in my pebbles, reedy in my pools,

But where my fish float by I bless their swimming

And I like the people to bathe in me, especially women.

But I can drown the fools

Who bathe too close to the weir, contrary to rules.

And they take a long time drowning

As I throw them up now and then in a spirit of clowning.

Hi yih, yippity-yap, merrily I flow,

O I may be an old foul river but I have plenty of go.

Once there was a lady who was too bold

She bathed in me by the tall black cliff where the water runs cold,

So I brought her down here

To be my beautiful dear.

Oh will she stay with me will she stay

This beautiful lady, or will she go away?

She lies in my beautiful deep river bed with many a weed

To hold her, and many a waving reed.

Oh who would guess what a beautiful white face lies there

Waiting for me to smooth and wash away the fear

She looks at me with. Hi yih, do not let her

Go. There is no one on earth who does not forget her

Now. They say I am a foolish old smelly river

But they do not know of my wide original bed

Where the lady waits, with her golden sleepy head.

If she wishes to go I will not forgive her.

I enjoy how the leery river’s lighthearted mischief steadily turns into something darker…a kind of offhand malice. Typical of nature spirit legends: it’s not that faeries (etc) are evil, exactly, but their ethics run a less measured course…


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