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25+ Majestic Poems About Rivers: The Language Of Water

The poems in this collection offer a refreshing take on the beauty and power of rivers. With every poem, we are reminded that our world is made up of flowing waters, and it’s only wise to recognise their importance when considering future plans for water sustainability. 

In this poetry collection, we’ll be taking a look at some poems about rivers from around the world. So grab your notebook and prepare to be inspired by these beautiful pieces of writing.

write river poem

What Are The Best Poems About Rivers?

Traveling through the dark by william stafford, poem in praise of menstruation by lucille clifton, to the river charles by henry wadsworth longfellow, fable of the mermaid and the drunks by pablo neruda, ask me by william stafford, prothalamion by edmund spenser, the brook by alfred, lord tennyson, the river of rivers in connecticut by wallace stevens, sonnet: to the river otter by samuel taylor coleridge, looking-glass river by robert louis stevenson, the river by kathleen raine, my river runs to thee by emily dickinson, the dry salvages by t. s. eliot, heaven by rupert brooke, on the pulse of morning by maya angelou, east river by lola ridge, the river by ralph waldo emerson, river to river by hai-dang phan, the negro speaks of rivers by langston hughes, river by sherwin bitsui, lyrical river by atul chandra sarkar, to the river by edgar allan poe, a river from “the state of the planet” by robert hass, the tale of a river… by dwij kabra, the river village by tu fu translated by florence ayscough and amy lowell, suicide’s note by langston hughes.

write river poem

From the ancient Greeks to contemporary poets, rivers have been celebrated in poetry for their beauty and power. Whether you are a nature lover or not, these poems about rivers will make you appreciate the natural world and all that it has to offer. 

We hope you have enjoyed reading these poems as much as we enjoyed putting them together for you. What is your favourite poem about a river? Let’s hang out in our Poetry Community .

Related To Poems About Rivers

  • poems about lakes
  • poems about dams
  • poems about nature
  • poems about boats

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Word Wool

153 Serene Poems About Rivers

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Here are my favorite poems about rivers categorized:

  • Poems about rivers and life
  • Poems about rivers and love
  • Poems about rivers and death
  • Poems about rivers and streams
  • Poems about rivers and nature
  • Short poems about rivers

So if you want the best poems about rivers, then you’re in the right place.

Let’s get started!

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Happy fantasy young blonde woman little fairy princess sitting in pink lotus flower on lake water.

Serene Poems About Rivers

Discover a captivating selection of meticulously curated poems that weave the essence of rivers into the fabric of human existence, inviting you on an enchanting journey through the depths and currents of life.

Within our collection, you will immerse yourself in verses that flow with the rhythmic melodies of nature, exploring the profound connections between rivers and the human spirit, unveiling the tales of resilience, renewal, and the timeless wisdom they carry.

With our handpicked assortment, you can now wander through the poetic tapestry that celebrates the eternal dance of rivers, where words meander and cascade, inviting you to delve into the transformative power and untold stories that ripple through their flowing waters.

My #1 Favorite Poem About Rivers

Gothic sexy woman vamp.

“The River” by Sara Teasdale

I came from the sunny valleys And sought for the open sea, For I thought in its gray expanses My peace would come to me. I came at last to the ocean And found it wild and black, And I cried to the windless valleys, “Be kind and take me back!” But the thirsty tide ran inland, And the salt waves drank of me, And I who was fresh as the rainfall Am bitter as the sea.

Poems About Rivers and Life

A girl in a pink dress with a long train is dancing on the top of the mountain

“Henry C. Calhoun” by Edgar Lee Masters

I reached the highest place in Spoon River, But through what bitterness of spirit! The face of my father, sitting speechless, Child-like, watching his canaries, And looking at the court-house window Of the county judge’s room, And his admonitions to me to seek My own in life, and punish Spoon River To avenge the wrong the people did him, Filled me with furious energy To seek for wealth and seek for power. But what did he do but send me along The path that leads to the grove of the Furies? I followed the path and I tell you this: On the way to the grove you’ll pass the Fates, Shadow-eyed, bent over their weaving. Stop for a moment, and if you see The thread of revenge leap out of the shuttle Then quickly snatch from Atropos The shears and cut it, lest your sons, And the children of them and their children Wear the envenomed robe.

“Inheritance” by George William (“A. E.”) Russell

As flow the rivers to the sea Adown from rocky hill or plain, A thousand ages toiled for thee And gave thee harvest of their gain; And weary myriads of yore Dug out for thee earth’s buried ore.

The shadowy toilers for thee fought In chaos of primeval day Blind battles with they knew not what; And each before he passed away Gave clear articulate cries of woe: Your pain is theirs of long ago.

And all the old heart sweetness sung, The joyous life of man and maid In forests when the earth was young, In rumours round your childhood strayed: The careless sweetness of your mind Comes from the buried years behind.

And not alone unto your birth Their gifts the weeping ages bore, The old descents of God on earth Have dowered thee with celestial lore: So, wise, and filled with sad and gay You pass unto the further day.

“Archibald Higbie” by Edgar Lee Masters

I loathed you, Spoon River. I tried to rise above you, I was ashamed of you. I despised you As the place of my nativity. And there in Rome, among the artists, Speaking Italian, speaking French, I seemed to myself at times to be free Of every trace of my origin. I seemed to be reaching the heights of art And to breathe the air that the masters breathed And to see the world with their eyes. But still they’d pass my work and say: “What are you driving at, my friend? Sometimes the face looks like Apollo’s At others it has a trace of Lincoln’s.” There was no culture, you know, in Spoon River And I burned with shame and held my peace. And what could I do, all covered over And weighted down with western soil Except aspire, and pray for another Birth in the world, with all of Spoon River Rooted out of my soul?

Beautiful red-haired girl on the top of the mountain over the ocean in Faroe Islands

“In valleys of springs of rivers” by A. E. Housman

In valleys of springs of rivers, By Ony and Teme and Clun, The country for easy livers, The quietest under the sun,

We still had sorrows to lighten, One could not be always glad, And lads knew trouble at Knighton When I was a Knighton lad.

By bridges that Thames runs under, In London, the town built ill, ’Tis sure small matter for wonder If sorrow is with one still.

And if as a lad grows older The troubles he bears are more, He carries his griefs on a shoulder That handselled them long before.

Where shall one halt to deliver This luggage I ’d lief set down? Not Thames, not Teme is the river, Nor London nor Knighton the town:

’Tis a long way further than Knighton, A quieter place than Clun, Where doomsday may thunder and lighten And little ’twill matter to one.

“Sunset From Omaha Hotel Window” by Carl Sandburg

Into the blue river hills The red sun runners go And the long sand changes And to-day is a goner And to-day is not worth haggling over.

Here in Omaha The gloaming is bitter As in Chicago Or Kenosha.

The long sand changes. To-day is a goner. Time knocks in another brass nail. Another yellow plunger shoots the dark.

Constellations Wheeling over Omaha As in Chicago Or Kenosha.

The long sand is gone and all the talk is stars. They circle in a dome over Nebraska.

“What Aspect Bore The Man Who Roved Or Fled” by William Wordsworth

What aspect bore the Man who roved or fled, First of his tribe, to this dark dell who first In this pellucid Current slaked his thirst? What hopes came with him? what designs were spread Along his path? His unprotected bed What dreams encompassed? Was the intruder nursed In hideous usages, and rites accursed, That thinned the living and disturbed the dead? No voice replies; both air and earth are mute; And Thou, blue Streamlet, murmuring yield’st no more Than a soft record, that, whatever fruit Of ignorance thou might’st witness heretofore, Thy function was to heal and to restore, To soothe and cleanse, not madden and pollute!

young and sexy nymph is walking in the canyon.

“The Green River” by Alfred Douglas

I know a green grass path that leaves the field And, like a running river, winds along Into a leafy wood, where is no throng Of birds at noon-day; and no soft throats yield Their music to the moon. The place is sealed, An unclaimed sovereignty of voiceless song, And all the unravished silences belong To some sweet singer lost, or unrevealed.

So is my soul become a silent place…. Oh, may I wake from this uneasy night To find some voice of music manifold. Let it be shape of sorrow with wan face Or love that swoons on sleep, or else delight That is as wide-eyed as a marigold.

“Intimate Prayer by Antonio Nicolás Blanco Intimate Prayer” by Antonio Nicolás Blanco

Blessed forever be My hamlet in its simplicity

With its mornings calm and bright, Lilac-covered, or blue or white.

Where evening as a perfume goes, And twilight’s colored like a rose.

With nights whose beauty nothing mars, Drunken with the moon and stars.

Where the ancient steeple airy Watches like a visionary.

With tiny houses that beguile One’s spirit with their humble smile.

Where ancient laurels touch the sky, And from tall cotes the pigeons fly.

Where the rivulet and river Bathe the feet of the village ever.

Where blossomy branches are the yield Of the fertile fragrant field.

With hearts good and happy, making Life’s old hurt leave off its aching—

Hearts that crave no other’s pleasure, But the days by duties measure;

Child-like souls who seem to be All courtesy and gravity.

For this, and for much more that I From memory will not let die,

Blessed forever be My hamlet in its simplicity!

“Sonnet VIII” by Luís de Camões (Viscount Strangford, Translator)

Mondego! thou, whose waters cold and clear Gird those green banks, where fancy fain would stay, Fondly to muse on that departed day When Hope was kind and Friendship seem’d sincere; —Ere I had purchas’d knowledge with a tear. —Mondego! though I bend my pilgrim way To other shores, where other fountains stray, And other rivers roll their proud career, Still—nor shall time, nor grief, nor stars severe, Nor widening distance e’er prevail in aught To make thee less to this sad bosom dear; And Memory oft, by old Affection taught, Shall lightly speed upon the plumes of thought, To bathe amongst thy waters cold and clear!

Young beautiful elf princess woman stroking mythical animal unicorn horse.

“Thanksgiving Day” by Lydia Maria Child

Over the river, and through the wood, To grandfather’s house we go; The horse knows the way To carry the sleigh Through the white and drifted snow.

Over the river, and through the wood— Oh, how the wind does blow! It stings the toes And bites the nose As over the ground we go.

Over the river, and through the wood, To have a first-rate play. Hear the bells ring “Ting-a-ling-ding”, Hurrah for Thanksgiving Day!

Over the river, and through the wood Trot fast, my dapple-gray! Spring over the ground, Like a hunting-hound! For this is Thanksgiving Day.

Over the river, and through the wood, And straight through the barn-yard gate. We seem to go Extremely slow,— It is so hard to wait!

Over the river and through the wood— Now grandmother’s cap I spy! Hurrah for the fun! Is the pudding done? Hurrah for the pumpkin-pie!

“At Crow’s Nest Pass” by Emily Pauline Johnson

At Crow’s Nest Pass the mountains rend Themselves apart, the rivers wend A lawless course about their feet, And breaking into torrents beat In useless fury where they blend At Crow’s Nest Pass.

The nesting eagle, wise, discreet, Wings up the gorge’s lone retreat And makes some barren crag her friend At Crow’s Nest Pass.

Uncertain clouds, half-high, suspend Their shifting vapours, and contend With rocks that suffer not defeat; And snows, and suns, and mad winds meet To battle where the cliffs defend At Crow’s Nest Pass.

“My Home” by Luis G. Dato

Up by a leaping stream, And cradled ’neath the hills, The hallowed moments seem Eternities of thrills.

The river runs its course Half round my little nest, Where birds are never hoarse Singing in play and rest.

O’er the roof the cadenas creep, Soft grasses clothe the lawn, Which with the twilight weep And pray for a new dawn.

At morn the butterflies Are early on the wing, And when the evening dies, I hear the late bird sing.

There joy no sorrows mar, Its cup is empty never, Wherein griefs, falling, are Lost in the depths forever.

write river poem

“The Faery Chasm” by William Wordsworth

No fiction was it of the antique age: A sky-blue stone, within this sunless cleft, Is of the very footmarks unbereft Which tiny Elves impressed; on that smooth stage Dancing with all their brilliant equipage In secret revels, haply after theft Of some sweet Babe, Flower stolen, and coarse Weed left For the distracted Mother to assuage Her grief with, as she might! But, where, oh! where Is traceable a vestige of the notes That ruled those dances wild in character? Deep underground? Or in the upper air, On the shrill wind of midnight? or where floats O’er twilight fields the autumnal gossamer?

“The River Village” by Tu Fu (Florence Ayscough and Amy Lowell, Translators)

The river makes a bend and encircles the village with its current. All the long Summer, the affairs and occupations of the river village are quiet and simple. The swallows who nest in the beams go and come as they please. The gulls in the middle of the river enjoy one another, they crowd together and touch one another. My old wife paints a chess-board on paper. My little sons hammer needles to make fish-hooks. I have many illnesses, therefore my only necessities are medicines. Besides these, what more can so humble a man as I ask?

Looking at the Moon After Rain by Li Po (Florence Ayscough and Amy Lowell, Translators)

The heavy clouds are broken and blowing, And once more I can see the wide common stretching beyond the four sides of the city. Open the door. Half of the moon-toad is already up, The glimmer of it is like smooth hoar-frost spreading over ten thousand li. The river is a flat, shining chain. The moon, rising, is a white eye to the hills; After it has risen, it is the bright heart of the sea. Because I love it—so—round as a fan, I hum songs until the dawn.

Luxury lady Queen medieval royal dress run escapes from Gothic night castle.

“Revery” by Fenton Johnson

1. I was the starlight I was the moonlight I was the sunset, Before the dawning Of my life; I was the river Forever winding To purple dreaming, I was the glowing Of youthful Springtime, I was the singing Of golden songbirds,— I was love.

2. I was the sunlight, I was the twilight, I was the humming Of winged creatures Ere my birth; I was the blushing Of lily maiden, I was the vision Of youthful striving, I was the summer, I was the autumn, I was the All-time— I was love.

“Jazzonia” by Langston Hughes

Oh, silver tree! Oh, shining rivers of the soul!

In a Harlem cabaret Six long-headed jazzers play. A dancing girl whose eyes are bold Lifts high a dress of silken gold.

Oh, singing tree! Oh, shining rivers of the soul!

Were Eve’s eyes In the first garden Just a bit too bold? Was Cleopatra gorgeous In a gown of gold?

Oh, shining tree! Oh, silver rivers of the soul!

In a whirling cabaret Six long-headed jazzers play.

“Salmon-Fishing” by Robinson Jeffers

The days shorten, the south blows wide for showers now, The south wind shouts to the rivers, The rivers open their mouths and the salt salmon Race up into the freshet. In Christmas month against the smoulder and menace Of a long angry sundown Red ash of the dark solstice, you see the anglers, Pitiful, cruel, primeval, Like the priests of the people that built Stonehenge, Dark silent forms, performing Remote solemnities in the red shallows Of the river’s mouth at the year’s turn, Drawing landward their live bullion, the bloody mouths And scales full of the sunset Twitch on the rocks, no more to wander at will The wild Pacific pasture nor wanton and spawning Race up into fresh water.

Dark queen attractive woman in Gothic dress.

“River Roads” by Carl Sandburg

Let the crows go by hawking their caw and caw. They have been swimming in midnights of coal mines somewhere. Let ’em hawk their caw and caw.

Let the woodpecker drum and drum on a hickory stump. He has been swimming in red and blue pools somewhere hundreds of years And the blue has gone to his wings and the red has gone to his head. Let his red head drum and drum.

Let the dark pools hold the birds in a looking-glass. And if the pool wishes, let it shiver to the blur of many wings, old swimmers from old places.

Let the redwing streak a line of vermillion on the green wood lines. And the mist along the river fix its purple in lines of a woman’s shawl on lazy shoulders.

“Not the Pilot” by Walt Whitman

Not the pilot has charged himself to bring his ship into port, though beaten back and many times baffled; Not the pathfinder penetrating inland weary and long, By deserts parch’d, snows chill’d, rivers wet, perseveres till he reaches his destination, More than I have charged myself, heeded or unheeded, to compose march for these States, For a battle-call, rousing to arms if need be, years, centuries hence.

“Spring in Tulwa Thlocco” by Alexander Posey

Thro’ the vine-embowered portal blows The fragrant breath of summer-time; Far, the river, brightly winding, goes With murmurs falling into rhyme.

It is spring in Tulwa Thlocco now; The fresher hue of grass and tree All but hides upon the mountain’s brow The green haunts of the chickadee.

There are drifts of plum blooms, snowy white, Along the lane and greening hedge; And the dogwood blossoms cast a light Upon the forest’s dusky edge.

Crocus, earliest flower of the year, Hangs out its starry petals where The spring beauties in their hiding peer, And the red-buds crimson all the air.

Portrait fantasy woman blonde forest fairy.

“The River of Life” by Thomas Campbell

The more we live, more brief appear Our life’s succeeding stages; A day to childhood seems a year, And years like passing ages.

The gladsome current of our youth, Ere passion yet disorders, Steals lingering like a river smooth Along its grassy borders.

But as the careworn cheek grows wan, And sorrow’s shafts fly thicker, Ye stars, that measure life to man, Why seem your courses quicker?

When joys have lost their bloom and breath, And life itself is vapid, Why, as we reach the Falls of Death Feel we its tide more rapid?

It may be strange—yet who would change Time’s course to slower speeding, When one by one our friends have gone, And left our bosoms bleeding?

Heaven gives our years of fading strength Indemnifying fleetness; And those of youth, a seeming length, Proportion’d to their sweetness.

“Cavalry Crossing a Ford” by Walt Whitman

A line in long array where they wind betwixt green islands, They take a serpentine course, their arms flash in the sun—hark to the musical clank, Behold the silvery river, in it the splashing horses loitering stop to drink, Behold the brown-faced men, each group, each person a picture, the negligent rest on the saddles, Some emerge on the opposite bank, others are just entering the ford—while, Scarlet and blue and snowy white, The guidon flags flutter gayly in the wind.

“Take, Cradled Nursling Of The Mountain” by William Wordsworth

Take, cradled Nursling of the mountain, take This parting glance, no negligent adieu! A Protean change seems wrought while I pursue The curves, a loosely-scattered chain doth make; Or rather thou appear’st a glistering snake, Silent, and to the gazer’s eye untrue, Thridding with sinuous lapse the rushes, through Dwarf willows gliding, and by ferny brake. Starts from a dizzy steep the undaunted Rill Robed instantly in garb of snow-white foam; And laughing dares the Adventurer, who hath clomb So high, a rival purpose to fulfill; Else let the dastard backward wend, and roam, Seeking less bold achievement, where he will!

sea queen sadly looks down and thinks for long time

“The Song of Siva” by Ameen Rihani

’Tis Night; all the Sirens are silent, All the Vultures asleep; And the horns of the Tempest are stirring Under the Deep; ’Tis Night; all the snow-burdened Mountains Dream of the Sea, And down in the Wadi the River Is calling to me.

’Tis Night; all the Caves of the Spirit Shake with desire, And the Orient Heaven’s essaying Its lances of fire; They hear, in the stillness that covers The land and the sea, The River, in the heart of the Wadi, Calling to me.

’Tis night, but a night of great joyance, A night of unrest;— The night of the birth of the spirit Of the East and the West; And the Caves and the Mountains are dancing On the Foam of the Sea, For the River inundant is calling, Calling to me.

“Acon” by H. D.

I Bear me to Dictaeus, and to the steep slopes; to the river Erymanthus.

I choose spray of dittany, cyperum, frail of flower, buds of myrrh, all-healing herbs, close pressed in calathes.

For she lies panting, drawing sharp breath, broken with harsh sobs, she, Hyella, whom no god pities.

II Dryads haunting the groves, nereids who dwell in wet caves, for all the white leaves of olive-branch, and early roses, and ivy wreaths, woven gold berries, which she once brought to your altars, bear now ripe fruits from Arcadia, and Assyrian wine to shatter her fever.

The light of her face falls from its flower, as a hyacinth, hidden in a far valley, perishes upon burnt grass.

Pales, bring gifts, bring your Phoenician stuffs, and do you, fleet-footed nymphs, bring offerings, Illyrian iris, and a branch of shrub, and frail-headed poppies.

“Leda” by H. D.

Where the slow river meets the tide, a red swan lifts red wings and darker beak, and underneath the purple down of his soft breast uncurls his coral feet.

Through the deep purple of the dying heat of sun and mist, the level ray of sun-beam has caressed the lily with dark breast, and flecked with richer gold its golden crest.

Where the slow lifting of the tide, floats into the river and slowly drifts among the reeds, and lifts the yellow flags, he floats where tide and river meet.

Ah kingly kiss— no more regret nor old deep memories to mar the bliss; where the low sedge is thick, the gold day-lily outspreads and rests beneath soft fluttering of red swan wings and the warm quivering of the red swan’s breast.

Beautiful red haired girl in white dress posing in river with water lilies.

“The Vanity of Existence” by Philip Freneau

In youth, gay scenes attract our eyes, And not suspecting their decay Life’s flowery fields before us rise, Regardless of its winter day.

But vain pursuits and joys as vain, Convince us life is but a dream. Death is to wake, to rise again To that true life you best esteem.

So nightly on some shallow tide, Oft have I seen a splendid show; Reflected stars on either side, And glittering moons were seen below.

But when the tide had ebbed away, The scene fantastic with it fled, A bank of mud around me lay, And sea-weed on the river’s bed.

“August” by Lizette Woodworth Reese

No wind, no bird. The river flames like brass. On either side, smitten as with a spell Of silence, brood the fields. In the deep grass, Edging the dusty roads, lie as they fell Handfuls of shriveled leaves from tree and bush. But ’long the orchard fence and at the gate, Thrusting their saffron torches through the hush, Wild lilies blaze, and bees hum soon and late. Rust-colored the tall straggling briar, not one Rose left. The spider sets its loom up there Close to the roots, and spins out in the sun A silken web from twig to twig. The air Is full of hot rank scents. Upon the hill Drifts the noon’s single cloud, white, glaring, still.

“Sunset On The River” by Madison Julius Cawein

I. A Sea of onyx are the skies, Cloud-islanded with fire; Such nacre-colored flame as dyes A sea-shell’s rosy spire; And at its edge one star sinks slow, Burning, into the overglow.

II. Save for the cricket in the grass, Or passing bird that twitters, The world is hushed. Like liquid glass The soundless river glitters Between the hills that hug and hold Its beauty like a hoop of gold.

III. The glory deepens; and, meseems, A vasty canvas, painted With revelations of God’s dreams And visions symbol-sainted, The west is, that each night-cowled hill Kneels down before in worship still.

IV. There is no thing to wake unrest; No sight or sound to jangle The peace that evening in the breast Brings, smoothing out the tangle Of gnarls and knots of care and strife That snarl the colored cord of life.

Illustrative photo for legends, creatures and fairytale.

“The Trinkets” by Gilbert Keith Chesterton

A wandering world of rivers, A wavering world of trees, If the world grow dim and dizzy With all changes and degrees, It is but Our Lady’s mirror Hung dreaming in its place, Shining with only shadows Till she wakes it with her face.

The standing whirlpool of the stars, The wheel of all the world, Is a ring on Our Lady’s finger With the suns and moons empearled With stars for stones to please her Who sits playing with her rings With the great heart that a woman has And the love of little things.

Wings of the whirlwind of the world From here to Ispahan, Spurning the flying forests Are light as Our Lady’s fan: For all things violent here and vain Lie open and all at ease Where God has girded heaven to guard Her holy vanities.

“The Monument Commonly Called Long Meg And Her Daughters, Near The River Eden” by William Wordsworth

A weight of awe, not easy to be borne, Fell suddenly upon my Spirit cast From the dread bosom of the unknown past, When first I saw that family forlorn. Speak Thou, whose massy strength and stature scorn The power of years pre-eminent, and placed Apart, to overlook the circle vast Speak, Giant-mother! tell it to the Morn While she dispels the cumbrous shades of Night; Let the Moon hear, emerging from a cloud; At whose behest uprose on British ground That Sisterhood, in hieroglyphic round Forth-shadowing, some have deemed, the infinite The inviolable God, that tames the proud!

“The Stepping-Stones” by William Wordsworth

The struggling Rill insensibly is grown Into a Brook of loud and stately march, Crossed ever and anon by plank or arch; And, for like use, lo! what might seem a zone Chosen for ornament, stone matched with stone In studied symmetry, with interspace For the clear waters to pursue their race Without restraint. How swiftly have they flown, Succeeding, still succeeding! Here the Child Puts, when the high-swoln Flood runs fierce and wild, His budding courage to the proof; and here Declining Manhood learns to note the sly And sure encroachments of infirmity, Thinking how fast time runs, life’s end how near!

Beautiful red haired girl in metal medieval armor dress with sword standing in warlike pose.

“To The River Avon” by Walter Savage Landor

Avon! why runnest thou away so fast? Rest thee before that Chancel where repose The bones of him whose spirit moves the world. I have beheld thy birthplace, I have seen Thy tiny ripples where they play amid The golden cups and ever-waving blades. I have seen mighty rivers, I have seen Padus, recovered from his fiery wound, And Tiber, prouder than them all to bear Upon his tawny bosom men who crusht The world they trod on, heeding not the cries Of culprit kings and nations many-tongued. What are to me these rivers, once adorn’d With crowns they would not wear but swept away? Worthier art thou of worship, and I bend My knees upon thy bank, and call thy name, And hear, or think I hear, thy voice reply.

“American Tradition” by William Wordsworth

Such fruitless questions may not long beguile Or plague the fancy ‘mid the sculptured shows Conspicuous yet where Oroonoko flows; ‘There’ would the Indian answer with a smile Aimed at the White Man’s ignorance, the while, Of the great waters telling how they rose, Covered the plains, and, wandering where they chose, Mounted through every intricate defile, Triumphant, Inundation wide and deep, O’er which his Fathers urged, to ridge and steep Else unapproachable, their buoyant way; And carved, on mural cliff’s undreaded side, Sun, moon, and stars, and beast of chase or prey; Whate’er they sought, shunned, loved, or deified!

“Whence That Low Voice?” by William Wordsworth

Whence that low voice? A whisper from the heart, That told of days long past, when here I roved With friends and kindred tenderly beloved; Some who had early mandates to depart, Yet are allowed to steal my path athwart By Duddon’s side; once more do we unite, Once more, beneath the kind Earth’s tranquil light; And smothered joys into new being start. From her unworthy seat, the cloudy stall Of Time, breaks forth triumphant Memory; Her glistening tresses bound, yet light and free As golden locks of birch, that rise and fall On gales that breathe too gently to recall Aught of the fading year’s inclemency!

A woman is standing on the riverbank in a white dress and a raincoat with feathers.

“On Revisiting the River Loddon” by Thomas Warton

Ah! what a weary race my feet have run Since first I trod thy banks with alders crowned, And thought my way was all through fairy ground, Beneath thy azure sky and golden sun,— Where first my muse to lisp her notes begun! While pensive memory traces back the round Which fills the varied interval between; Much pleasure, more of sorrow, marks the scene. Sweet native stream! those skies and suns so pure No more return to cheer my evening road! Yet still one joy remains, that not obscure Nor useless, all my vacant days have flowed From youth’s gay dawn to manhood’s prime mature, Nor with the Muse’s laurel unbestowed.

“The Plain Of Donnerdale” by William Wordsworth

The old inventive Poets, had they seen, Or rather felt, the entrancement that detains Thy waters, Duddon! ‘mid these flowery plains The still repose, the liquid lapse serene, Transferred to bowers imperishably green, Had beautified Elysium! But these chains Will soon be broken; a rough course remains, Rough as the past; where Thou, of placid mien, Innocuous as a firstling of the flock, And countenanced like a soft cerulean sky, Shalt change thy temper; and, with many a shock Given and received in mutual jeopardy, Dance, like a Bacchanal, from rock to rock, Tossing her frantic thyrsus wide and high!

“From This Deep Chasm” by William Wordsworth

From this deep chasm, where quivering sunbeams play Upon its loftiest crags, mine eyes behold A gloomy Niche, capacious, blank, and cold; A concave free from shrubs and mosses grey; In semblance fresh, as if, with dire affray, Some Statue, placed amid these regions old For tutelary service, thence had rolled, Startling the flight of timid Yesterday! Was it by mortals sculptured? weary slaves Of slow endeavour! or abruptly cast Into rude shape by fire, with roaring blast Tempestuously let loose from central caves? Or fashioned by the turbulence of waves, Then, when o’er highest hills the Deluge passed?

The princess is standing on the beach

“To the River Otter” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Dear native brook! wild streamlet of the West! How many various-fated years have past, What happy, and what mournful hours, since last I skimmed the smooth thin stone along thy breast, Numbering its light leaps! yet so deep imprest Sink the sweet scenes of childhood, that mine eyes I never shut amid the sunny ray, But straight with all their tints thy waters rise Thy crossing-plank, thy marge with willows gray, And bedded sand, that, veined with various dyes, Gleamed through thy bright transparence! On my way Visions of childhood! oft have ye beguiled Lone manhood’s cares, yet waking fondest sighs: Ah! that once more I were a careless child!

“To the River Tees” by Edmund Peel

Tees! if the wells we draw from shed no light, Thou hast a voice to gladden thy green dale, Till the rocks founder and the mountains fail. Plunge, and roll on, in full harmonious might, Based on primeval adamantine right! Wind out, and reach, and murmur down the vale; Or in a torrent, white as stony hail Strike the deep caves of thunder, black as night, Whose walls stand fast forever! What am I Thy depths to fathom, or to wield thy force, Or of thy shoals to babble, Various One? We came alike from yonder equal sky. Could I but run thy clear and sonorous course, Rejoicing thousands, disappointing none!

“The Two Rivers” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Slowly the hour-hand of the clock moves round; So slowly that no human eye hath power To see it move! Slowly in shine or shower The painted ship above it, homeward bound, Sails, but seems motionless, as if aground; Yet both arrive at last; and in his tower The slumberous watchman wakes and strikes the hour, A mellow, measured, melancholy sound. Midnight! the outpost of advancing day! The frontier town and citadel of night! The watershed of Time, from which the streams Of Yesterday and To-morrow take their way, One to the land of promise and of light, One to the land of darkness and of dreams!

A mysterious wanderer in a luxurious dress and a blue cloak that flutters in the wind.

“River Snow” by Mark Van Doren

The flakes are a little thinner where I look, For I can see a circle of grey shore, And greyer water, motionless beyond. But the other shore is gone, and right and left Earth and sky desert me. Still I stand And look at the dark circle that is there— As if I were a man blinded with whiteness, And one grey spot remained. The flakes descend, Softly, without a sound that I can tell— When out of the further white a gull appears, Crosses the hollow place, and goes again… There was no flap of wing; no feather fell. But now I hear him crying, far away, And think he may be wanting to return… The flakes descend… And shall I see the bird? Not one path is open through the snow.

“Down The River” by Henry Lawson

I’ve done with joys an’ misery, An’ why should I repine? There’s no one knows the past but me An’ that ol’ dog o’ mine. We camp an’ walk an’ camp an’ walk, An’ find it fairly good; He can do anything but talk, An’ he wouldn’t if he could.

We sits an’ thinks beside the fire, With all the stars a-shine, An’ no one knows our thoughts but me An’ that there dog o’ mine. We has our Johnny-cake an’ ‘scrag,’ An’ finds ’em fairly good; He can do anything but talk, An’ he wouldn’t if he could.

He gets a ‘possum now an’ then, I cooks it on the fire; He has his water, me my tea, What more could we desire? He gets a rabbit when he likes, We finds it pretty good; He can do anything but talk, An’ he wouldn’t if he could.

I has me smoke, he has his rest, When sunset’s gettin’ dim; An’ if I do get drunk at times, It’s all the same to him. So long’s he’s got me swag to mind, He thinks that times is good; He can do anything but talk, An’ he wouldn’t if he could.

He gets his tucker from the cook, For cook is good to him, An’ when I sobers up a bit, He goes an’ has a swim. He likes the rivers where I fish, An’ all the world is good; He can do anything but talk, An’ he wouldn’t if he could.

“To The River Itchin” by William Lisle Bowles

Itchin! when I behold thy banks again, Thy crumbling margin, and thy silver breast, On which the self-same tints still seem to rest, Why feels my heart a shivering sense of pain! Is it, that many a summer’s day has past Since, in life’s morn, I carolled on thy side! Is it, that oft since then my heart has sighed, As Youth, and Hope’s delusive gleams, flew fast! Is it, that those who gathered on thy shore, Companions of my youth, now meet no more! Whate’er the cause, upon thy banks I bend, Sorrowing; yet feel such solace at my heart, As at the meeting of some long-lost friend, From whom, in happier hours, we wept to part.

Beautiful attractive woman dark queen walks by river.

“The River” by Ella Wheeler Wilcox

I am a river flowing from God’s sea Through devious ways. He mapped my course for me; I cannot change it; mine alone the toil To keep the waters free from grime and soil. The winding river ends where it began; And when my life has compassed its brief span I must return to that mysterious source. So let me gather daily on my course The perfume from the blossoms as I pass, Balm from the pines, and healing from the grass, And carry down my current as I go Not common stones but precious gems to show; And tears (the holy water from sad eyes) Back to God’s sea, from which all rivers rise Let me convey, not blood from wounded hearts, Nor poison which the upas tree imparts. When over flowery vales I leap with joy, Let me not devastate them, nor destroy, But rather leave them fairer to the sight; Mine be the lot to comfort and delight. And if down awful chasms I needs must leap Let me not murmur at my lot, but sweep On bravely to the end without one fear, Knowing that He who planned my ways stands near. Love sent me forth, to Love I go again, For Love is all, and over all. Amen.

“To The Avon” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Flow on, sweet river! like his verse Who lies beneath this sculptured hearse Nor wait beside the churchyard wall For him who cannot hear thy call.

Thy playmate once; I see him now A boy with sunshine on his brow, And hear in Stratford’s quiet street The patter of his little feet.

I see him by thy shallow edge Wading knee-deep amid the sedge; And lost in thought, as if thy stream Were the swift river of a dream.

He wonders whitherward it flows; And fain would follow where it goes, To the wide world, that shall erelong Be filled with his melodious song.

Flow on, fair stream! That dream is o’er; He stands upon another shore; A vaster river near him flows, And still he follows where it goes.

“The Tide River” by Charles Kingsley

Clear and cool, clear and cool, By laughing shallow, and dreaming pool; Cool and clear, cool and clear, By shining shingle, and foaming wear; Under the crag where the ouzel sings, And the ivied wall where the church-bell rings, Undefiled, for the undefiled; Play by me, bathe in me, mother and child.

Dank and foul, dank and foul, By the smoky town in its murky cowl; Foul and dank, foul and dank, By wharf and sewer and slimy bank; Darker and darker the farther I go, Baser and baser the richer I grow; Who dare sport with the sin-defiled? Shrink from me, turn from me, mother and child.

Strong and free, strong and free, The floodgates are open, away to the sea. Free and strong, free and strong, Cleansing my streams as I hurry along To the golden sands, and the leaping bar, And the taintless tide that awaits me afar, As I lose myself in the infinite main, Like a soul that has sinned and is pardoned again. Undefiled, for the undefiled; Play by me, bathe in me, mother and child.

A lonely mermaid, sitting on a rock in the middle of the river, which was tightened by a thick, impenetrable fog.

“Separation” by Edward Powys Mathers (As Translator)

As water runs in the river, so runs time; And ever my eyes are wasted of her presence.

The red flowers of the second moon were yesterday; To-day the earth has spots of blood, and there are no flowers.

The wild geese were harnessed to the autumn moon; They have come, I heard their crying, and they are gone.

They have passed and given me no message; I only hear the falling, falling noise of white rain.

“Sonnets: Idea LIII Another To The River Ankor” by Michael Drayton

Clear Ankor, on whose silver-sanded shore, My soul-shrined saint, my fair Idea lives; O bless’d brook, whose milk-white swans adore Thy crystal stream, refin’d by her eyes, Where sweet myrrh-breathing Zephyr in the spring Gently distils his nectar-dropping showers, Where nightingales in Arden sit and sing Amongst the dainty dew-impearl’d flowers; Say thus, fair brook, when thou shalt see thy queen, “Lo, here thy shepherd spent his wand’ring years And in these shades, dear nymph, he oft hath been; And here to thee he sacrificed his tears.” Fair Arden, thou my Tempe art alone, And thou, sweet Ankor, art my Helicon!

“The River” by Ralph Waldo Emerson

And I behold once more My old familiar haunts; here the blue river, The same blue wonder that my infant eye Admired, sage doubting whence the traveller came,— Whence brought his sunny bubbles ere he washed The fragrant flag-roots in my father’s fields, And where thereafter in the world he went. Look, here he is, unaltered, save that now He hath broke his banks and flooded all the vales With his redundant waves. Here is the rock where, yet a simple child, I caught with bended pin my earliest fish, Much triumphing, —and these the fields Over whose flowers I chased the butterfly, A blooming hunter of a fairy fine. And hark! where overhead the ancient crows Hold their sour conversation in the sky:— These are the same, but I am not the same, But wiser than I was, and wise enough Not to regret the changes, tho’ they cost Me many a sigh. Oh, call not Nature dumb; These trees and stones are audible to me, These idle flowers, that tremble in the wind, I understand their faery syllables, And all their sad significance. The wind, That rustles down the well-known forest road— It hath a sound more eloquent than speech. The stream, the trees, the grass, the sighing wind, All of them utter sounds of ’monishment And grave parental love. They are not of our race, they seem to say, And yet have knowledge of our moral race, And somewhat of majestic sympathy, Something of pity for the puny clay, That holds and boasts the immeasurable mind. I feel as I were welcome to these trees After long months of weary wandering, Acknowledged by their hospitable boughs; They know me as their son, for side by side, They were coeval with my ancestors, Adorned with them my country’s primitive times, And soon may give my dust their funeral shade.

Poems About Rivers and Love

The tale of the river nymph.

“To the River Yvette” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

O lovely river of Yvette! O darling river! like a bride, Some dimpled, bashful, fair Lisette, Thou goest to wed the Orge’s tide.

Maincourt, and lordly Dampierre, See and salute thee on thy way, And, with a blessing and a prayer, Ring the sweet bells of St. Forget.

The valley of Chevreuse in vain Would hold thee in its fond embrace; Thou glidest from its arms again And hurriest on with swifter pace.

Thou wilt not stay; with restless feet, Pursuing still thine onward flight, Thou goest as one in haste to meet Her sole desire, her heart’s delight.

O lovely river of Yvette! O darling stream! on balanced wings The wood-birds sang the chansonnette That here a wandering poet sings.

“The River” by Matthew Arnold

Still glides the stream, slow drops the boat Under the rustling poplars’ shade; Silent the swans beside us float: None speaks, none heeds—ah, turn thy head.

Let those arch eyes now softly shine, That mocking mouth grow sweetly bland: Ah, let them rest, those eyes, on mine; On mine let rest that lovely hand.

My pent-up tears oppress my brain, My heart is swoln with love unsaid: Ah, let me weep, and tell my pain, And on thy shoulder rest my head.

Before I die, before the soul, Which now is mine, must re-attain Immunity from my control, And wander round the world again:

Before this teas’d o’erlabour’d heart For ever leaves its vain employ, Dead to its deep habitual smart, And dead to hopes of future joy.

“Sunday up the River” by James Thomson

My love o’er the water bends dreaming; It glideth and glideth away: She sees there her own beauty, gleaming Through shadow and ripple and spray.

O tell her, thou murmuring river, As past her your light wavelets roll, How steadfast that image for ever Shines pure in pure depths of my soul.

Young Asian Woman Tanned Skin And Black Shine Long Hair with flowers costume design.

“An Indian Love Song” by Bertrand N. O. Walker

Light o’ the lodge, how I love thee, Light o’ the lodge, how I love thee, Mianza, my wild-wood fawn! To wait and to watch for thy passing. On hill-top I linger at dawn.

Glimmer of morn, how I love thee, Glimmer of morn, how I love thee! My flute to the ground now I fling, As you tread the steep trail to the spring, For thy coming has silenced my song.

Shimmer of moon on the river, Sheen of soft star on the lake! Moonlight and starlight are naught; Their gleam and their glow is ne’er fraught With such love-light as falls from thine eyes.

“Change Me, Some God” by William Wordsworth

“Change me, some God, into that breathing rose!” The love-sick Stripling fancifully sighs, The envied flower beholding, as it lies On Laura’s breast, in exquisite repose; Or he would pass into her bird, that throws The darts of song from out its wiry cage; Enraptured, could he for himself engage The thousandth part of what the Nymph bestows; And what the little careless innocent Ungraciously receives. Too daring choice! There are whose calmer mind it would content To be an unculled floweret of the glen, Fearless of plough and scythe; or darkling wren That tunes on Duddon’s banks her slender voice.

“Love’s Philosophy” by Percy Bysshe Shelley

The fountains mingle with the river And the rivers with the ocean, The winds of heaven mix for ever With a sweet emotion; Nothing in the world is single, All things by a law divine In one another’s being mingle— Why not I with thine?

See the mountains kiss high heaven, And the waves clasp one another; No sister-flower would be forgiven If it disdain’d its brother; And the sunlight clasps the earth, And the moonbeams kiss the sea— What are all these kissings worth, If thou kiss not me?

Fantasy girl in a fairy garden.

“Summer Sorrow” by Leonora Speyer

What shall meadow hold to please me, Spreading wide its scented waving, How shall quiet mosses ease me, Or the night-wind cool my craving? Hill and hedgerow, cloud-sweet sky, Echo our good-by.

Bud unplucked and leaf a-quiver, Bird that lifts a tuneless trilling, Restless dream of brook and river, All June’s cup a wasted spilling— You and I so thirsty-hearted!—

“The Same Subject” by William Wordsworth

Not so that Pair whose youthful spirits dance With prompt emotion, urging them to pass; A sweet confusion checks the Shepherd-lass; Blushing she eyes the dizzy flood askance; To stop ashamed, too timid to advance; She ventures once again, another pause! His outstretched hand He tauntingly withdraws She sues for help with piteous utterance! Chidden she chides again; the thrilling touch Both feel, when he renews the wished-for aid: Ah! if their fluttering hearts should stir too much, Should beat too strongly, both may be betrayed. The frolic Loves, who, from yon high rock, see The struggle, clap their wings for victory!

“Premonition” by Paul Laurence Dunbar

Dear heart, good-night! Nay, list awhile that sweet voice singing When the world is all so bright, And the sound of song sets the heart a-ringing, Oh, love, it is not right— Not then to say, “Good-night.”

Dear heart, good-night! The late winds in the lake weeds shiver, And the spray flies cold and white. And the voice that sings gives a telltale quiver— “Ah, yes, the world is bright, But, dearest heart, good-night!”

Dear heart, good-night! And do not longer seek to hold me! For my soul is in affright As the fearful glooms in their pall enfold me. See him who sang how white And still; so, dear, good-night.

Dear heart, good-night! Thy hand I’ll press no more forever, And mine eyes shall lose the light; For the great white wraith by the winding river Shall check my steps with might. So, dear, good-night, good-night!

attractive brunette woman in luxurious fluttering waving outfit.

“Lethe” by H. D.

Nor skin nor hide nor fleece Shall cover you, Nor curtain of crimson nor fine Shelter of cedar-wood be over you, Nor the fir-tree Nor the pine.

Nor sight of whin nor gorse Nor river-yew, Nor fragrance of flowering bush, Nor wailing of reed-bird to waken you, Nor of linnet, Nor of thrush.

Nor word nor touch nor sight Of lover, you Shall long through the night but for this: The roll of the full tide to cover you Without question, Without kiss.

“Paris” by Willa Cather

Behind the arch of glory sets the day; The river lies in curves of silver light, The Fields Elysian glitter in a spray Of golden dust; the gilded dome is bright, The towers of Notre Dame cut clean and gray The evening sky, and pale from left to right A hundred bridges leap from either quay. Pillared with pride, the city of delight Sits like an empress by her silver Seine, Heavy with jewels, all her splendid dower Flashing upon her, won from shore and main By shock of combat, sacked from town and tower. Wherever men have builded hall or fane Red war hath gleaned for her and men have slain To deck her loveliness. I feel again That joy which brings her art to faultless flower, That passion of her kings, who, reign on reign, Arrayed her star by star with pride and power.

“Modern Love: XVIII” by George Meredith

Here Jack and Tomare are paired with Moll and Meg. Curved open to the river-reach is seen A country merry-making on the green. Fair space for signal shakings of the leg. That little screwy fiddler from his booth, Whence flows one nut-brown stream, commands the joints Of all who caper here at various points. I have known rustic revels in my youth: The May-fly pleasures of a mind at ease. An early goddess was a country lass: A charmed Amphion-oak she tripped the grass. What life was that I lived? The life of these? Heaven keep them happy! Nature they seem near. They must, I think, be wiser than I am; They have the secret of the bull and lamb. ’Tis true that when we trace its source, ’tis beer.

A girl elf in a white dress is floating in the water.

“Desert Pools” by Sara Teasdale

I love too much; I am a river Surging with spring that seeks the sea, I am too generous a giver, Love will not stoop to drink of me.

His feet will turn to desert places Shadowless, reft of rain and dew, Where stars stare down with sharpened faces From heavens pitilessly blue.

And there at midnight sick with faring He will stoop down in his desire To slake the thirst grown past all bearing In stagnant water keen as fire.

“Rain” by Jean Starr Untermeyer

I have always hated the rain, And the gloom of grayed skies. But now I think I must always cherish Rain-hung leaf and the misty river; And the friendly screen of dripping green Where eager kisses were shyly given And your pipe-smoke made clouds in our damp, close heaven.

The curious laggard passed us by, His wet shoes soughed on the shining walk. And that afternoon was filled with a blurred glory— That afternoon, when we first talked as lovers.

“Silence” by D. H. Lawrence

Since I lost you I am silence-haunted, Sounds wave their little wings A moment, then in weariness settle On the flood that soundless swings.

Whether the people in the street Like pattering ripples go by, Or whether the theatre sighs and sighs With a loud, hoarse sigh:

Or the wind shakes a ravel of light Over the dead-black river, Or night’s last echoing Makes the daybreak shiver:

I feel the silence waiting To take them all up again In its vast completeness, enfolding The sound of men.

beautiful elf woman fabulous, fairy forest, famtasy young woman with long ears, long dark hair golden wreath crown on head

“Confluents” by Christina Georgina Rossetti

As rivers seek the sea, Much more deep than they, So my soul seeks thee Far away: As running rivers moan On their course alone So I moan Left alone.

As the delicate rose To the sun’s sweet strength Doth herself unclose, Breadth and length: So spreads my heart to thee Unveiled utterly, I to thee Utterly.

As morning dew exhales Sunwards pure and free, So my spirit fails After thee: As dew leaves not a trace On the green earth’s face; I, no trace On thy face.

Its goal the river knows, Dewdrops find a way, Sunlight cheers the rose In her day: Shall I, lone sorrow past, Find thee at the last? Sorrow past, Thee at last?

“Bei Hennef” by D. H. Lawrence

The little river twittering in the twilight, The wan, wondering look of the pale sky, This is almost bliss.

And everything shut up and gone to sleep, All the troubles and anxieties and pain Gone under the twilight.

Only the twilight now, and the soft “Sh!” of the river That will last forever.

And at last I know my love for you is here, I can see it all, it is whole like the twilight, It is large, so large, I could not see it before Because of the little lights and flickers and interruptions, Troubles, anxieties, and pains.

You are the call and I am the answer, You are the wish, and I the fulfillment, You are the night, and I the day. What else—it is perfect enough, It is perfectly complete, You and I. Strange, how we suffer in spite of this!

“Who Swerves From Innocence, Who Makes Divorce” by William Wordsworth

Who swerves from innocence, who makes divorce Of that serene companion, a good name, Recovers not his loss; but walks with shame, With doubt, with fear, and haply with remorse: And oft-times he who, yielding to the force Of chance-temptation, ere his journey end, From chosen comrade turns, or faithful friend In vain shall rue the broken intercourse. Not so with such as loosely wear the chain That binds them, pleasant River! to thy side: Through the rough copse wheel thou with hasty stride; I choose to saunter o’er the grassy plain, Sure, when the separation has been tried, That we, who part in love, shall meet again.

bright summer photo with shining rays of sun, mysterious forest fairy fell in love with prince, girl with puppet face, blond long hair and blue eyes, lady in green dress peeps modestly, with interest

“Tradition” by William Wordsworth

A love-lorn Maid, at some far-distant time, Came to this hidden pool, whose depths surpass In crystal clearness Dian’s looking-glass; And, gazing, saw that Rose, which from the prime Derives its name, reflected, as the chime Of echo doth reverberate some sweet sound: The starry treasure from the blue profound She longed to ravish; shall she plunge, or climb The humid precipice, and seize the guest Of April, smiling high in upper air? Desperate alternative! what fiend could dare To prompt the thought? Upon the steep rock’s breast The lonely Primrose yet renews its bloom, Untouched memento of her hapless doom!

“The Danube River” by Hamilton Aïdé

Do you recall that night in June, Upon the Danube river? We listen’d to a Ländler tune, We watch’d the moonbeams quiver. I oft since then have watch’d the moon, But never, love, oh! never, Can I forget that night in June, Adown the Danube river. Our boat kept measure with its oar, The music rose in snatches, From peasants dancing on the shore With boisterous songs and catches. I know not why that Ländler rang Through all my soul—but never Can I forget the songs they sang Adown the Danube river.

“The River-Merchant’s Wife: A Letter” by Ezra Pound

While my hair was still cut straight across my forehead I played about the front gate, pulling flowers. You came by on bamboo stilts, playing horse; You walked about my seat, playing with blue plums. And we went on living in the village of Chokan: Two small people, without dislike or suspicion. At fourteen I married My Lord you. I never laughed, being bashful. Lowering my head, I looked at the wall. Called to, a thousand times, I never looked back. At fifteen I stopped scowling, I desired my dust to be mingled with yours Forever and forever, and forever. Why should I climb the look-out? At sixteen you departed, You went into far Ku-to-Yen, by the river of swirling eddies, And you have been gone five months. The monkeys make sorrowful noise overhead. You dragged your feet when you went out. By the gate now, the moss is grown, the different mosses, Too deep to clear them away The leaves fall early this autumn, in wind. The paired butterflies are already yellow with August Over the grass in the west garden— They hurt me. I grow older. If you are coming down through the narrows of the river, Please let me know beforehand, And I will come out to meet you, As far as Cho-fu-Sa.

The girl in the royal image.

“To The River Derwent” by William Wordsworth

Among the mountains were we nursed, loved Stream Thou near the eagle’s nest, within brief sail, I, of his bold wing floating on the gale, Where thy deep voice could lull me! Faint the beam Of human life when first allowed to gleam On mortal notice. Glory of the vale, Such thy meek outset, with a crown, though frail, Kept in perpetual verdure by the steam Of thy soft breath! Less vivid wreath entwined Nemaean victor’s brow; less bright was worn, Meed of some Roman chief, in triumph borne With captives chained; and shedding from his car The sunset splendours of a finished war Upon the proud enslavers of mankind!

“To The River” by Edgar Allan Poe

Fair river! in thy bright, clear flow Of crystal, wandering water, Thou art an emblem of the glow Of beauty, the unhidden heart, The playful maziness of art In old Alberto’s daughter;

But when within thy wave she looks, Which glistens then, and trembles, Why, then, the prettiest of brooks Her worshiper resembles; For in his heart, as in thy stream, Her image deeply lies, His heart which trembles at the beam Of her soul-searching eyes.

“The Little Woman Of Clear River” by Edward Powys Mathers (As Translator)

Clear River twists nine times about Clear River; but so deep That none can see the green sand. You hear the birds about Clear River: Dik, dik, dik, dik, Diu dik.

A little woman with jade eyes Leans on the wall of a pavilion. She has the moonrise in her heart And the singing of love songs Comes to her up the river.

She stands and dreams for me Outside the house by the bamboo door. In a minute I will leave my shadow And talk to her of poetry and love.

Young attractive girl dressed as fairy in the cage

“Flow On, Thou Shining River.” by Thomas Moore

Flow on, thou shining river; But ere thou reach the sea Seek Ella’s bower and give her The wreaths I fling o’er thee And tell her thus, if she’ll be mine The current of our lives shall be, With joys along their course to shine, Like those sweet flowers on thee.

But if in wandering thither Thou find’st she mocks my prayer, Then leave those wreaths to wither Upon the cold bank there; And tell her thus, when youth is o’er, Her lone and loveless Charms shall be Thrown by upon life’s weedy shore. Like those sweet flowers from thee.

“River Bend” by Banjo Paterson (Andrew Barton)

At River Bend, in New South Wales, All alone among the whales, Busting up some post and rails, Sweet Belle Mahone. In the blazing sun we stand, Cabbage-tree hat, black velvet band, Moleskins stiff with sweat and sand, Sweet Belle Mahone.

Chorus: Sweet Belle Mahone, &c.

In the burning sand we pine, No one asks us to have a wine, ‘Tis a jolly crooked line, Sweet Belle Mahone. When I am sitting on a log, Looking like a great big frog, Waiting for a Murray cod, Sweet Belle Mahone.

Land of snakes and cockatoos, Native bears and big emus, Ugly blacks and kangaroos, Sweet Belle Mahone. Paddymelons by the score, Wild bulls, you should hear them roar, They all belong to Johnny Dore, Sweet Belle Mahone.

Poems About Rivers and Death

Fantasy woman warrior on black background, lady with red lips, long hair hands close up holding dagger, knife short sword.

“Carl Hamblin” by Edgar Lee Masters

The press of the Spoon River Clarion was wrecked, And I was tarred and feathered, For publishing this on the day the Anarchists were hanged in Chicago: “I saw a beautiful woman with bandaged eyes Standing on the steps of a marble temple. Great multitudes passed in front of her, Lifting their faces to her imploringly. In her left hand she held a sword. She was brandishing the sword, Sometimes striking a child, again a laborer, Again a slinking woman, again a lunatic. In her right hand she held a scale; Into the scale pieces of gold were tossed By those who dodged the strokes of the sword. A man in a black gown read from a manuscript: ‘She is no respecter of persons.’ Then a youth wearing a red cap Leaped to her side and snatched away the bandage. And lo, the lashes had been eaten away From the oozy eye-lids; The eye-balls were seared with a milky mucus; The madness of a dying soul Was written on her face— But the multitude saw why she wore the bandage.”

“Aaron Hatfield” by Edgar Lee Masters

Better than granite, Spoon River, Is the memory-picture you keep of me Standing before the pioneer men and women There at Concord Church on Communion day. Speaking in broken voice of the peasant youth Of Galilee who went to the city And was killed by bankers and lawyers; My voice mingling with the June wind That blew over wheat fields from Atterbury; While the white stones in the burying ground Around the Church shimmered in the summer sun. And there, though my own memories Were too great to bear, were you, O pioneers, With bowed heads breathing forth your sorrow For the sons killed in battle and the daughters And little children who vanished in life’s morning, Or at the intolerable hour of noon. But in those moments of tragic silence, When the wine and bread were passed, Came the reconciliation for us— Us the ploughmen and the hewers of wood, Us the peasants, brothers of the peasant of Galilee— To us came the Comforter And the consolation of tongues of flame!

“E. C. Culbertson” by Edgar Lee Masters

Is it true, Spoon River, That in the hall-way of the New Court House There is a tablet of bronze Containing the embossed faces Of Editor Whedon and Thomas Rhodes? And is it true that my successful labors In the County Board, without which Not one stone would have been placed on another, And the contributions out of my own pocket To build the temple, are but memories among the people, Gradually fading away, and soon to descend With them to this oblivion where I lie? In truth, I can so believe. For it is a law of the Kingdom of Heaven That whoso enters the vineyard at the eleventh hour Shall receive a full day’s pay. And it is a law of the Kingdom of this World That those who first oppose a good work Seize it and make it their own, When the corner-stone is laid, And memorial tablets are erected.

A fabulous, forest nymph with long hair lies and sleeps on a tree branch.

“In Memory of Colonel Charles Young” by Countee Cullen

Along the shore the tall, thin grass That fringes that dark river, While sinuously soft feet pass, Begins to bleed and quiver.

The great dark voice breaks with a sob Across the womb of night; Above your grave the tom-toms throb, And the hills are weird with light.

The great dark heart is like a well Drained bitter by the sky, And all the honeyed lies they tell Come there to thirst and die.

No lie is strong enough to kill The roots that work below; From your rich dust and slaughtered will A tree with tongues will grow.

“Richard Bone” by Edgar Lee Masters

When I first came to Spoon River I did not know whether what they told me Was true or false. They would bring me the epitaph And stand around the shop while I worked And say “He was so kind,” “He was wonderful,” “She was the sweetest woman,” “He was a consistent Christian.” And I chiseled for them whatever they wished, All in ignorance of its truth. But later, as I lived among the people here, I knew how near to the life Were the epitaphs that were ordered for them as they died. But still I chiseled whatever they paid me to chisel And made myself party to the false chronicles Of the stones, Even as the historian does who writes Without knowing the truth, Or because he is influenced to hide it.

“Riverside” by John Myers O’Hara

Across the slopes whose wooded spaces hide The Hudson’s sweep, rising more royal than Above the Tiber that of Hadrian, A tomb looms domed and dim o’er dusk and tide; All dreams of alien beauty that abide, The memory of lands beyond the span Of seas that sing the deeds of god and man, May reinspire the soul on Riverside. And now the mists are falling on the far Wide silver of the river, and a star Burns in the pines that crown the Palisades. Slowly the final streak of sunlight fades, And Claremont, with the lamps against its white, Shines like a limpid jewel in the night.

Attractive brunette girl with a cute angel face standing in the rain under the open sky.

“Shards” by Aline Murray Kilmer

I can never remake the thing I have destroyed; I brushed the golden dust from the moth’s bright wing, I called down wind to shatter the cherry-blossoms, I did a terrible thing.

I feared that the cup might fall, so I flung it from me; I feared that the bird might fly, so I set it free; I feared that the dam might break, so I loosed the river: May its waters cover me.

“By the Rivers of Babylon We Sat Down and Wept” by Lord Byron

We sat down and wept by the waters Of Babel, and thought of the day When our foe, in the hue of his slaughters, Made Salem’s high places his prey, And ye, O her desolate daughters! Were scatter’d all weeping away.

While sadly we gazed on the river Which roll’d on in freedom below, They demanded the song; but, oh, never That triumph the stranger shall know! May this right hand be wither’d for ever, Ere it string our high harp for the foe!

On the willow that harp is suspended, O Salem! its sound should be free; And the hour when thy glories were ended But left me that token of thee; And ne’er shall its soft tones be blended With the voice of the spoiler by me!

“Never Enough of Living” by Léonie Adams

Never, my heart, is there enough of living, Since only in thee is loveliness so sweet pain; Only for thee the willows will be giving Their quiet fringes to the dreaming river; Only for thee so the light grasses ever Are hollowed by the print of windy feet, And breathe hill weather on the misty plain; And were no rapture of them in thy beat, For every hour of sky Stillborn in gladness would the waters wear Colors of air translucently, And the stars sleep there.

Gently, my heart, nor let one moment ever Be spilled from the brief fullness of thine urn. Plunge in its exultation star and star, Sea and plumed sea in turn. O still, my heart, nor spill this moment ever.

A girl in a blue dress stands in the water of a picturesque lake

“To the River Cherwell, Oxford” by William Lisle Bowles

Cherwell! how pleased along thy willowed hedge Erewhile I strayed, or when the morn began To tinge the distant turret’s gleamy fan, Or evening glimmered o’er the sighing sedge! And now reposing on thy banks once more, I bid the pipe farewell, and that sad lay Whose music on my melancholy way I wooed: amid thy waving willows hoar Seeking awhile to rest,—till the bright sun Of joy return, as when Heaven’s beauteous bow Beams on the night-storm’s passing wings below: Whate’er betide, yet something have I won Of solace, that may bear me on serene, Till Eve’s last hush shall close the silent scene.

“To R.W.E.” by Emma Lazarus

As when a father dies, his children draw About the empty hearth, their loss to cheat With uttered praise & love, & oft repeat His all-familiar words with whispered awe. The honored habit of his daily law, Not for his sake, but theirs whose feeble feet Need still that guiding lamp, whose faith, less sweet, Misses that tempered patience without flaw, So do we gather round thy vacant chair, In thine own elm-roofed, amber-rivered town, Master & Father! For the love we bear, Not for thy fame’s sake, do we weave this crown, And feel thy presence in the sacred air, Forbidding us to weep that thou art gone.

“Winter Heavens” by George Meredith

Sharp is the night, but stars with frost alive Leap off the rim of earth across the dome. It is a night to make the heavens our home More than the nest whereto apace we strive. Lengths down our road each fir-tree seems a hive, In swarms outrushing from the golden comb. They waken waves of thoughts that burst to foam: The living throb in me, the dead revive. Yon mantle clothes us: there, past mortal breath, Life glistens on the river of the death. It folds us, flesh and dust; and have we knelt, Or never knelt, or eyed as kine the springs Of radiance, the radiance enrings: And this is the soul’s haven to have felt.

sad girl in the boat

“I have drifted along this river” by Richard Aldington

I have drifted along this river Until I moored my boat By these crossed trunks. Here the mist moves Over fragile leaves and rushes, Colorless waters and brown, fading hills. You have come from beneath the trees And move within the mist, A floating leaf. O blue flower of the evening, You have touched my face With your leaves of silver. Love me, for I must depart.

“The Kirk Of Ulpha To The Pilgrim’s Eye” by William Wordsworth

The Kirk of Ulpha to the pilgrim’s eye Is welcome as a star, that doth present Its shining forehead through the peaceful rent Of a black cloud diffused o’er half the sky: Or as a fruitful palm-tree towering high O’er the parched waste beside an Arab’s tent; Or the Indian tree whose branches, downward bent, Take root again, a boundless canopy. How sweet were leisure! could it yield no more Than ‘mid that wave-washed Churchyard to recline, From pastoral graves extracting thoughts divine; Or there to pace, and mark the summits hoar Of distant moonlit mountains faintly shine, Soothed by the unseen River’s gentle roar.

“No Record Tells Of Lance Opposed To Lance” by William Wordsworth

No record tells of lance opposed to lance, Horse charging horse, ‘mid these retired domains; Tells that their turf drank purple from the veins Of heroes, fallen, or struggling to advance, Till doubtful combat issued in a trance Of victory, that struck through heart and reins Even to the inmost seat of mortal pains, And lightened o’er the pallid countenance. Yet, to the loyal and the brave, who lie In the blank earth, neglected and forlorn, The passing Winds memorial tribute pay; The Torrents chant their praise, inspiring scorn Of power usurped; with proclamation high, And glad acknowledgment, of lawful sway.

Elf woman in violet dress

“Nightwind” by John Clare

Darkness like midnight from the sobbing woods Clamours with dismal tidings of the rain, Roaring as rivers breaking loose in floods To spread and foam and deluge all the plain. The cotter listens at his door again, Half doubting whether it be floods or wind, And through the thickening darkness looks afraid, Thinking of roads that travel has to find Through night’s black depths in danger’s garb arrayed. And the loud glabber round the flaze soon stops When hushed to silence by the lifted hand Of fearing dame who hears the noise in dread And thinks a deluge comes to drown the land; Nor dares she go to bed until the tempest drops.

Poems About Rivers and Streams

Beautiful artistic photo portrait of a mysterious girl in white dress sitting on the shore of the lake near the forest

“June Sunset” by Sarojini Naidu

Here shall my heart find its haven of calm, By rush-fringed rivers and rain-fed streams That glimmer thro’ meadows of lily and palm. Here shall my soul find its true repose Under a sunset sky of dreams Diaphanous, amber and rose. The air is aglow with the glint and whirl Of swift wild wings in their homeward flight, Sapphire, emerald, topaz, and pearl. Afloat in the evening light.

A brown quail cries from the tamarisk bushes, A bulbul calls from the cassia-plume, And thro’ the wet earth the gentian pushes Her spikes of silvery bloom. Where’er the foot of the bright shower passes Fragrant and fresh delights unfold; The wild fawns feed on the scented grasses, Wild bees on the cactus-gold.

An ox-cart stumbles upon the rocks, And a wistful music pursues the breeze From a shepherd’s pipe as he gathers his flocks Under the pipal-trees. And a young Banjara driving her cattle Lifts up her voice as she glitters by In an ancient ballad of love and battle Set to the beat of a mystic tune, And the faint stars gleam in the eastern sky To herald a rising moon.

“Night on the River” by E. Merrill Root

This is our world: a dark stream murmuring; Sly hordes of shadows out of every brake; Sky-fallen gold-fish stars that float or shake In mirrored nets these wizard maples fling; My oars, that dip like some light swallow’s wing; Fire-flies, like sparks that the wind fans awake; And moments like the bubbles that we make, Like the frail foam that marks our voyaging! Love, let us drift—what matter when or where? Are not the stars, the dusk, the whispering stream, Far whippoorwills, our boat, and we, a dream In some mad mind? And do not all streams bear Themselves and all they hold to one vast sea— The waste wan waters of Eternity?

“Dean-Bourn, a Rude River in Devon” by Robert Herrick

Dean-Bourn, farewell; I never look to see Deane, or thy warty incivility. Thy rockie bottome, that doth teare thy streams, And makes them frantick, ev’n to all extreames, To my content, I never sho’d behold, Were thy streams silver, or thy rocks all gold. Rockie thou art; and rockie we discover Thy men; and rockie are thy wayes all over. O men, O manners! now, and ever knowne To be a rockie generation! A people currish, churlish as the seas, And rude, almost, as rudest salvages; With whom I did, and may re-sojourne when Rockes turn to rivers, rivers turn to men.

magical image of attractive blonde girl in gorgeous red dress decorated with flowers,

“Change on Change” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

1. Three months ago, the stream did flow, The lilies bloomed along the edge; And we were lingering to and fro,— Where none will track thee in this snow, Along the stream, beside the hedge. Ah! sweet, be free to come and go; For if I do not hear thy foot, The frozen river is as mute,— The flowers have dried down to the root; And why, since these be changed since May, Shouldst thou change less than they?

2. And slow, slow as the winter snow, The tears have drifted to mine eyes; And my two cheeks, three months ago, Set blushing at thy praises so, Put paleness on for a disguise. Ah! sweet, be free to praise and go; For if my face is turned to pale, It was thine oath that first did fail,— It was thy love proved false and frail! And why, since these be changed, I trow, Should I change less than thou?

“To the River Arun” by Charlotte Smith

Be the proud Thames of trade the busy mart; Arun, to thee will other praise belong: Dear to the lover’s and the mourner’s heart, And ever sacred to the sons of song. Thy banks romantic hopeless Love shall seek, Where o’er the rocks the mantling bind-weed flaunts; And Sorrow’s drooping form and faded cheek Choose on thy willowed shore her lonely haunts. Banks, which inspired thy Otway’s plaintive strain! Wilds, whose lorn echoes learned the deeper tone Of Collins, powerful shade! yet once again Another poet, Hayley, is thine own. Thy classic stream again shall hear a lay Bright as its waves and various as its way.

“A Lazy Day” by Paul Laurence Dunbar

The trees bend down along the stream, Where anchored swings my tiny boat. The day is one to drowse and dream And list the thrush’s throttling note. When music from his bosom bleeds Among the river’s rustling reeds.

No ripple stirs the placid pool, When my adventurous line is cast, A truce to sport, while clear and cool, The mirrored clouds slide softly past. The sky gives back a blue divine, And all the world’s wide wealth is mine.

A pickerel leaps, a bow of light, The minnows shine from side to side. The first faint breeze comes up the tide— I pause with half uplifted oar, While night drifts down to claim the shore.

Snow White.

“The River Of Ruin” by Paul Laurence Dunbar

Along by the river of ruin They dally–the thoughtless ones, They dance and they dream By the side of the stream, As long as the river runs.

It seems all so pleasant and cheery– No thought of the morrow is theirs, And their faces are bright With the sun of delight, And they dream of no night-brooding cares.

The women wear garlanded tresses, The men have rings on their hands, And they sing in their glee, For they think they are free– They that know not the treacherous sands.

Ah, but this be a venturesome journey, Forever those sands are ashift, And a step to one side Means a grasp of the tide, And the current is fearful and swift.

For once in the river of ruin, What boots it, to do or to dare, For down we must go In the turbulent flow, To the desolate sea of Despair.

“October Evening” by Robinson Jeffers

Male-throated under the shallow sea-fog Moaned a ship’s horn quivering the shorelong granite. Coyotes toward the valley made answer, Their little wolf-pads in the dead grass by the stream Wet with the young season’s first rain, Their jagged wail trespassing among the steep stars. What stars? Aldebaran under the dove-leash Pleiades. I thought, in an hour Orion will be risen, Be glad for summer is dead and the sky Turns over to darkness, good storms, few guests, glad rivers.

“To the River Beach” by H. L. Davis

Let me go now, now that from grown alders leaves Have torn loose, and go flying close to the sand Along the black river-water. White rye-grass bends Under the wind, under the sky, toward water Where the pheasants feed, hiding; and the few willows, With dark alder leaves caught in them, join and part. I have not seen them for so long I see dark mouths Black with juice of berries, and I remember the children Who ran shaking the tall rye-grass. So they run And scatter as if caught in the wind, gathering The last beach fruit, late ripening, which they can save.

charming girl with long luxurious healthy black hair posing in front of high waterfall in lagoon with blue clear water in Martvili Canyon, lady in light flying dress of heavenly color with cut train

“Hints For The Fancy” by William Wordsworth

On, loitering Muse, the swift Stream chides us on! Albeit his deep-worn channel doth immure Objects immense portrayed in miniature, Wild shapes for many a strange comparison! Niagaras, Alpine passes, and anon Abodes of Naiads, calm abysses pure, Bright liquid mansions, fashioned to endure When the broad oak drops, a leafless skeleton, And the solidities of mortal pride, Palace and tower, are crumbled into dust! The Bard who walks with Duddon for his guide, Shall find such toys of fancy thickly set: Turn from the sight, enamoured Muse, we must; And, if thou canst, leave them without regret!

“Valedictory Sonnet to the River Duddon” by William Wordsworth

I thought of Thee, my partner and my guide, As being pass’d away.—Vain sympathies! For, backward, Duddon! as I cast my eyes, I see what was, and is, and will abide; Still glides the Stream, and shall for ever glide; The Form remains, the Function never dies; While we, the brave, the mighty, and the wise, We Men, who in our morn of youth defied The elements, must vanish;—be it so! Enough, if something from our hands have power To live, and act, and serve the future hour; And if, as toward the silent tomb we go, Through love, through hope, and faith’s transcendent dower, We feel that we are greater than we know.

“The River and the Hill” by Henry Kendall

And they shook their sweetness out in their sleep, On the brink of that beautiful stream, But it wandered along with a wearisome song Like a lover that walks in a dream: So the roses blew When the winds went through, In the moonlight so white and so still; But the river it beat All night at the feet Of a cold and flinty hill Of a hard and senseless hill!

I said, We have often showered our loves Upon something as dry as the dust; And the faith that is crost, and the hearts that are lost Oh! how can we wittingly trust? Like the stream which flows, And wails as it goes, Through the moonlight so white and so still, To beat and to beat All night at the feet Of a cold and flinty hill Of a hard and senseless hill?

River, I stay where the sweet roses blow, And drink of their pleasant perfumes! Oh, why do you moan, in this wide world alone, When so much affection here blooms? The winds wax faint, And the Moon like a Saint Glides over the woodlands so white and so still! But you beat and you beat All night at the feet Of that cold and flinty hill Of that hard and senseless hill!

a beautiful woman like a fairy or nymph walking in the park

“To a River in the South” by Henry John Newbolt, Sir

Call me no more, O gentle stream, To wander through thy sunny dream, No more to lean at twilight cool Above thy weir and glimmering pool.

Surely I know thy hoary dawns, The silver crisp on all thy lawns, The softly swirling undersong That rocks thy reeds the winter long.

Surely I know the joys that ring Through the green deeps of leafy spring; I know the elfin cups and domes That are their small and secret homes.

Yet is the light for ever lost That daily once thy meadows crossed, The voice no more by thee is heard That matched the song of stream and bird.

Call me no more!–thy waters roll Here, in the world that is my soul, And here, though Earth be drowned in night, Old love shall dwell with old delight.

“O Mountain Stream” by William Wordsworth

O Mountain Stream! the Shepherd and his Cot Are privileged Inmates of deep solitude; Nor would the nicest Anchorite exclude A field or two of brighter green, or plot Of tillage-ground, that seemeth like a spot Of stationary sunshine: thou hast viewed These only, Duddon! with their paths renewed By fits and starts, yet this contents thee not. Thee hath some awful Spirit impelled to leave, Utterly to desert, the haunts of men, Though simple thy companions were and few; And through this wilderness a passage cleave Attended but by thy own voice, save when The clouds and fowls of the air thy way pursue!

“Return, Content! For Fondly I Pursued” by William Wordsworth

Return, Content! for fondly I pursued, Even when a child, the Streams, unheard, unseen; Through tangled woods, impending rocks between; Or, free as air, with flying inquest viewed The sullen reservoirs whence their bold brood Pure as the morning, fretful, boisterous, keen, Green as the salt-sea billows, white and green Poured down the hills, a choral multitude! Nor have I tracked their course for scanty gains; They taught me random cares and truant joys, That shield from mischief and preserve from stains Vague minds, while men are growing out of boys; Maturer Fancy owes to their rough noise Impetuous thoughts that brook not servile reins.

Elf woman in a magical forest

“To Dean Bourn, A Rude River In Devon, By Which Sometimes He Lived.” by Robert Herrick

Dean Bourn, farewell; I never look to see Dean, or thy watery incivility. Thy rocky bottom, that doth tear thy streams And makes them frantic even to all extremes, To my content I never should behold, Were thy streams silver, or thy rocks all gold. Rocky thou art, and rocky we discover Thy men, and rocky are thy ways all over. O men, O manners, now and ever known To be a rocky generation! A people currish, churlish as the seas, And rude almost as rudest savages, With whom I did, and may re-sojourn when Rocks turn to rivers, rivers turn to men.

“Tributary Stream” by William Wordsworth

My frame hath often trembled with delight When hope presented some far-distant good, That seemed from heaven descending, like the flood Of yon pure waters, from their aery height Hurrying, with lordly Duddon to unite; Who, ‘mid a world of images imprest On the calm depth of his transparent breast, Appears to cherish most that Torrent white, The fairest, softest, liveliest of them all! And seldom hath ear listened to a tune More lulling than the busy hum of Noon, Swoln by that voice, whose murmur musical Announces to the thirsty fields a boon Dewy and fresh, till showers again shall fall.

“I” by William Wordsworth

Not envying Latian shades, if yet they throw A grateful coolness round that crystal Spring, Blandusia, prattling as when long ago The Sabine Bard was moved her praise to sing; Careless of flowers that in perennial blow Round the moist marge of Persian fountains cling; Heedless of Alpine torrents thundering Through ice-built arches radiant as heaven’s bow; I seek the birthplace of a native Stream. All hail, ye mountains! hail, thou morning light! Better to breathe at large on this clear height Than toil in needless sleep from dream to dream: Pure flow the verse, pure, vigorous, free, and bright, For Duddon, long-loved Duddon, is my theme!

beautiful water nymph

“To The River Arve.” by William Cullen Bryant

Not from the sands or cloven rocks, Thou rapid Arve! thy waters flow; Nor earth, within her bosom, locks Thy dark unfathomed wells below. Thy springs are in the cloud, thy stream Begins to move and murmur first Where ice-peaks feel the noonday beam, Or rain-storms on the glacier burst.

Born where the thunder and the blast, And morning’s earliest light are born, Thou rushest swoln, and loud, and fast, By these low homes, as if in scorn: Yet humbler springs yield purer waves; And brighter, glassier streams than thine, Sent up from earth’s unlighted caves, With heaven’s own beam and image shine.

Yet stay; for here are flowers and trees; Warm rays on cottage roofs are here, And laugh of girls, and hum of bees, Here linger till thy waves are clear. Thou heedest not, thou hastest on; From steep to steep thy torrent falls, Till, mingling with the mighty Rhone, It rests beneath Geneva’s walls.

Rush on, but were there one with me That loved me, I would light my hearth Here, where with God’s own majesty Are touched the features of the earth. By these old peaks, white, high, and vast, Still rising as the tempests beat, Here would I dwell, and sleep, at last, Among the blossoms at their feet.

Poems About Rivers and Nature

Elegant woman dancing on water.

“Anima Naturae” by Walter Leslie Wilmshurst

Swirl of the river aflow to the sea, Aspen a-quiver all tremulously, Skylark that shivereth song o’er the lea, Shaft of the sun; Snowflakes that sprinkle the wind-bitten wold, Fireflies that twinkle with shimmer of gold, Wavelets that wrinkle the sands where ye rolled, Rivulet’s ripple and run; MYST. Lone mountain-meres that are silently dreaming Of far-flashing spheres that enmirrored are beaming, Clouds’ crystal tears when the rainbow is gleaming, I, also a son Of the Mother, inherit the soul of her infinite throng, See it and hear it my paths all about and among, Throb with your spirit and sing with the manifold song Of the infinite, manifold One.

“Two Rivers” by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thy summer voice, Musketaquit, Repeats the music of the rain; But sweeter rivers pulsing flit Through thee, as thou through Concord Plain.

Thou in thy narrow banks art pent: The stream I love unbounded goes Through flood and sea and firmament; Through light, through life, it forward flows.

I see the inundation sweet, I hear the spending of the stream Through years, through men, through Nature fleet, Through love and thought, through power and dream.

Musketaquit, a goblin strong, Of shard and flint makes jewels gay; They lose their grief who hear his song, And where he winds is the day of day.

So forth and brighter fares my stream,— Who drink it shall not thirst again; No darkness stains its equal gleam, And ages drop in it like rain.

“To The River Greta, Near Keswick” by William Wordsworth

Greta, what fearful listening! when huge stones Rumble along thy bed, block after block: Or, whirling with reiterated shock, Combat, while darkness aggravates the groans: But if thou (like Cocytus from the moans Heard on his rueful margin) thence wert named The Mourner, thy true nature was defamed, And the habitual murmur that atones For thy worst rage, forgotten. Oft as Spring Decks, on thy sinuous banks, her thousand thrones Seats of glad instinct and love’s caroling, The concert, for the happy, then may vie With liveliest peals of birth-day harmony: To a grieved heart, the notes are benisons.

Portrait of beautiful African woman wearing purple fantasy costume, magical fairy wings and flower crown afro, wandering around forest location with natural lighting.

“Nature” by Henry David Thoreau

O Nature! I do not aspire To be the highest in thy quire,— To be a meteor in the sky, Or comet that may range on high; Only a zephyr that may blow Among the reeds by the river low; Give me thy most privy place Where to run my airy race.

In some withdrawn, unpublic mead Let me sigh upon a reed, Or in the woods, with leafy din, Whisper the still evening in: Some still work give me to do,— Only—be it near to you!

For I’d rather be thy child And pupil, in the forest wild, Than be the king of men elsewhere, And most sovereign slave of care: To have one moment of thy dawn, Than share the city’s year forlorn.

“Sheep-Washing” by William Wordsworth

Sad thoughts, avaunt! partake we their blithe cheer Who gathered in betimes the unshorn flock To wash the fleece, where haply bands of rock, Checking the stream, make a pool smooth and clear As this we look on. Distant Mountains hear, Hear and repeat, the turmoil that unites Clamour of boys with innocent despites Of barking dogs, and bleatings from strange fear. And what if Duddon’s spotless flood receive Unwelcome mixtures as the uncouth noise Thickens, the pastoral River will forgive Such wrong; nor need ‘we’ blame the licensed joys, Though false to Nature’s quiet equipoise: Frank are the sports, the stains are fugitive.

“Written Upon A Blank Leaf In ‘The Complete Angler.'” by William Wordsworth

While flowing rivers yield a blameless sport, Shall live the name of Walton: Sage benign! Whose pen, the mysteries of the rod and line Unfolding, did not fruitlessly exhort To reverend watching of each still report That Nature utters from her rural shrine. Meek, nobly versed in simple discipline, He found the longest summer day too short, To his loved pastime given by sedgy Lee, Or down the tempting maze of Shawford brook, Fairer than life itself, in this sweet Book, The cowslip-bank and shady willow-tree; And the fresh meads where flowed, from every nook Of his full bosom, gladsome Piety!

Beautiful Romantic Girl with long hair in pink dress near flowering tree.

Black Horizons by Carl Sandburg

Black horizons, come up. Black horizons, kiss me. That is all; so many lies; killing so cheap; babies so cheap; blood, people, so cheap; and land high, land dear; a speck of the earth costs; a suck at the tit of Mother Dirt so clean and strong, it costs; fences, papers, sheriffs; fences, laws, guns; and so many stars and so few hours to dream; such a big song and so little a footing to stand and sing; take a look; wars to come; red rivers to cross. Black horizons, come up. Black horizons, kiss me.

“Not Hurled Precipitous From Steep To Steep” by William Wordsworth

Not hurled precipitous from steep to steep; Lingering no more ‘mid flower-enameled lands And blooming thickets; nor by rocky bands Held; but in radiant progress toward the Deep Where mightiest rivers into powerless sleep Sink, and forget heir nature, ‘now’ expands Majestic Duddon, over smooth flat sands Gliding in silence with unfettered sweep! Beneath an ampler sky a region wide Is opened round him: hamlets, towers, and towns, And blue-topped hills, behold him from afar; In stately mien to sovereign Thames allied Spreading his bosom under Kentish downs, With commerce freighted, or triumphant war.

“Open Prospect” by William Wordsworth

Hail to the fields, with Dwellings sprinkled o’er, And one small hamlet, under a green hill Clustering, with barn and byre, and spouting mill! A glance suffices, should we wish for more, Gay June would scorn us. But when bleak winds roar Through the stiff lance-like shoots of pollard ash, Dread swell of sound! loud as the gusts that lash The matted forests of Ontario’s shore By wasteful steel unsmitten, then would I Turn into port; and, reckless of the gale, Reckless of angry Duddon sweeping by, While the warm hearth exalts the mantling ale, Laugh with the generous household heartily At all the merry pranks of Donnerdale!

woman in autumn park

“Sole Listener, Duddon! To The Breeze That Played” by William Wordsworth

Sole listener, Duddon! to the breeze that played With thy clear voice, I caught the fitful sound Wafted o’er sullen moss and craggy mound, Unfruitful solitudes, that seemed to upbraid The sun in heaven! but now, to form a shade For Thee, green alders have together wound Their foliage; ashes flung their arms around; And birch-trees risen in silver colonnade. And thou hast also tempted here to rise, ‘Mid sheltering pines, this Cottage rude and grey; Whose ruddy children, by the mother’s eyes Carelessly watched, sport through the summer day, Thy pleased associates: light as endless May On infant bosoms lonely Nature lies.

“To the River Rhone” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Thou Royal River, born of sun and shower In chambers purple with the Alpine glow, Wrapped in the spotless ermine of the snow And rocked by tempests!—at the appointed hour Forth, like a steel-clad horseman from a tower, With clang and clink of harness dost thou go To meet thy vassal torrents, that below Rush to receive thee and obey thy power. And now thou movest in triumphal march, A king among the rivers! On thy way A hundred towns await and welcome thee; Bridges uplift for thee the stately arch, Vineyards encircle thee with garlands gay, And fleets attend thy progress to the sea!

“Flowers” by William Wordsworth

Ere yet our course was graced with social trees It lacked not old remains of hawthorn bowers, Where small birds warbled to their paramours; And, earlier still, was heard the hum of bees; I saw them ply their harmless robberies, And caught the fragrance which the sundry flowers, Fed by the stream with soft perpetual showers, Plenteously yielded to the vagrant breeze. There bloomed the strawberry of the wilderness; The trembling eyebright showed her sapphire blue, The thyme her purple, like the blush of Even; And if the breath of some to no caress Invited, forth they peeped so fair to view, All kinds alike seemed favourites of Heaven.

Princess in magic forest

“How Shall I Paint Thee?” by William Wordsworth

How shall I paint thee? Be this naked stone My seat, while I give way to such intent; Pleased could my verse, a speaking monument, Make to the eyes of men thy features known. But as of all those tripping lambs not one Outruns his fellows, so hath Nature lent To thy beginning nought that doth present Peculiar ground for hope to build upon. To dignify the spot that gives thee birth, No sign of hoar Antiquity’s esteem Appears, and none of modern Fortune’s care; Yet thou thyself hast round thee shed a gleam Of brilliant moss, instinct with freshness rare; Prompt offering to thy Foster-mother, Earth!

“A Dark Plume Fetch Me From Yon Blasted Yew” by William Wordsworth

A dark plume fetch me from yon blasted yew, Perched on whose top the Danish Raven croaks; Aloft, the imperial Bird of Rome invokes Departed ages, shedding where he flew Loose fragments of wild wailing, that bestrew The clouds and thrill the chambers of the rocks; And into silence hush the timorous flocks, That, calmly couching while the nightly dew Moistened each fleece, beneath the twinkling stars Slept amid that lone Camp on Hardknot’s height, Whose Guardians bent the knee to Jove and Mars: Or, near that mystic Round of Druid frame Tardily sinking by its proper weight Deep into patient Earth, from whose smooth breast it came!

“Praised Be The Rivers, From Their Mountain Springs” by William Wordsworth

Praised be the Rivers, from their mountain springs Shouting to Freedom, “Plant thy banners here!” To harassed Piety, “Dismiss thy fear, And in our caverns smooth thy ruffled wings!” Nor be unthanked their final lingerings Silent, but not to high-souled Passion’s ear ‘Mid reedy fens wide-spread and marshes drear, Their own creation. Such glad welcomings As Po was heard to give where Venice rose Hailed from aloft those Heirs of truth divine Who near his fountains sought obscure repose, Yet came prepared as glorious lights to shine, Should that be needed for their sacred Charge; Blest Prisoners They, whose spirits were at large!

A woman in the image of a fairy and a sorceress standing over a lake in a black dress and a crown.

“By a River” by Henry Kendall

By red-ripe mouth and brown, luxurious eyes Of her I love, by all your sweetness shed In far, fair days, on one whose memory flies To faithless lights, and gracious speech gainsaid, I pray you, when yon river-path I tread, Make with the woodlands some soft compromise, Lest they should vex me into fruitless sighs With visions of a woman’s gleaming head! For every green and golden-hearted thing That gathers beauty in that shining place, Beloved of beams and wooed by wind and wing, Is rife with glimpses of her marvellous face; And in the whispers of the lips of Spring The music of her lute-like voice I trace.

“A Field by the River” by H. L. Davis

I see a white river-bird, and I see the women Among the weeds, the light of their dresses between Quick willow leaves; and I see that there the wind Comes like a bird from the river, and blows their dresses. Today their pleasure’s among willows and high cold weeds Where the flood bred pale snapdragons in the shade. I lie in the high grass by the spring at their door And hear them across the white stubble of their own field’s Edge: along the willows in the sand where the reaper Has never been driven, they go. It was the flood margin. At the flood margin which they feared their pleasure is; Their white dresses fly where the water felt at the young grain. It seems they are silent, looking at the white bird. “Does it follow us here?” And one, looking to the sky: “No, There is nothing now till spring to be anxious for; They are through reaping, the grain is gone, and two seasons Are to come before spring comes: so enjoy the day.” They come pleasantly through high weeds, old foam in the branches.

“River Roses” by D. H. Lawrence (David Herbert Richards)

By the Isar, in the twilight We were wandering and singing, By the Isar, in the evening We climbed the huntsman’s ladder and sat swinging In the fir-tree overlooking the marshes, While river met with river, and the ringing Of their pale-green glacier water filled the evening.

By the Isar, in the twilight We found the dark wild roses Hanging red at the river; and simmering Frogs were singing, and over the river closes Was savour of ice and of roses; and glimmering Fear was abroad. We whispered: “No one knows us. Let it be as the snake disposes Here in this simmering marsh.”


Art Fashion Model Girl Portrait

“The Resting Place” by William Wordsworth

Mid-noon is past; upon the sultry mead No zephyr breathes, no cloud its shadow throws: If we advance unstrengthened by repose, Farewell the solace of the vagrant reed! This Nook with woodbine hung and straggling weed Tempting recess as ever pilgrim chose, Half grot, half arbour, proffers to enclose Body and mind, from molestation freed, In narrow compass, narrow as itself: Or if the Fancy, too industrious Elf, Be loth that we should breathe awhile exempt From new incitements friendly to our task, Here wants not stealthy prospect, that may tempt Loose Idless to forego her wily mask.

“The River Saguenay.” by Rosanna Eleanor Leprohon

Few poets yet in praise of thee Have tuned a passing lay, Yet art thou rich in beauties stern, Thou dark browed Saguenay!

And those grand charms that surely form For earth her rarest crown On thee, with strangely lavish hand, Have all been showered down.

Thine own wild flood, so deep, so dark; That holds the gaze enthralled As if by some weird spell, at once Entranced yet not appalled;

Seeking in vain to pierce those depths, Where wave and rock have met, Those depths which, by the hand of man, Have ne’er been fathomed yet.

And then thy shores – thy rock bound shores, Where giant cliffs arise, Raising their untrod, unknown heights Defiant to the skies,

And casting from their steep, stern brows Shadows of deepest gloom Athwart thy wave, till it doth seem A passage to a tomb.

Such art thou in thy solitude, Majestic Saguenay! As lonely and as sternly rude As in time past away,

When the red man in his fragile bark Sped o’er thy glassy wave, And found amid thy forests wild His cradle, home and grave.

All, all is changed – reigns in his stead Another race and name, But, in thy lonely grandeur still, Proud River, thou’rt the same!

Short Poems About Rivers

A beautiful young woman with a fabulous semi-transparent dress of a mermaid or nymph poses on a summer day on the rocks by a forest river.

“By The River.” by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Flow on, ye lays so loved, so fair,

On to Oblivion’s ocean flow! May no rapt boy recall you e’er,

No maiden in her beauty’s glow!

My love alone was then your theme,

But now she scorns my passion true. Ye were but written in the stream;

As it flows on, then, flow ye too!

“Communication” by Mark Van Doren

Suddenly, across the road, A river of strange waters flowed, And my old friend I ran to see Stood and only waved at me, I cried aloud the things we did So long ago—and the stream slid More quietly a little while. I saw him nod and faintly smile, Remembering… Then all around The current intervened its sound.

“Letter S” by Carl Sandburg

The river is gold under a sunset of Illinois. It is a molten gold someone pours and changes. A woman mixing a wedding cake of butter and eggs Knows what the sunset is pouring on the river here. The river twists in a letter S. A gold S now speaks to the Illinois sky.

powerful autumn nymph, queen of fire and goddess of hot sun, lady in long red light dress with loose sleeves with dark hair, model in scarlet forest with flying owl, bloody Mary, vampire image

“They Ask Each Other Where They Came From” by Carl Sandburg

Am I the river your white birds fly over? Are you the green valley my silver channels roam? The two of us a bowl of blue sky day time and a bowl of red stars night time? Who picked you out of the first great whirl of nothings and threw you here?

“Penniwit, the Artist” by Edgar Lee Masters

I lost my patronage in Spoon River From trying to put my mind in the camera To catch the soul of the person. The very best picture I ever took Was of Judge Somers, attorney at law. He sat upright and had me pause Till he got his cross-eye straight. Then when he was ready he said “all right.” And I yelled “overruled” and his eye turned up. And I caught him just as he used to look When saying “I except.”

“A River in Eden” by William Blake

There is in Eden a sweet River of milk and liquid pearl Nam’d Ololon, on whose mild banks dwelt those who Milton drove Down into Ulro; and they wept in long-resounding song For seven days of Eternity, and the River’s living banks, The mountains wail’d, and every plant that grew, in solemn sighs, lamented.

A beautiful girl in a princess costume walks through the winter

“Winter” by Maeng Sa-song

As winter enters this land of rivers and lakes, the snow is more than a foot in depth. Even though my hat is made of bamboo and my coat is woven from straw, This body’s warmth is also a debt we owe to our great king.

“Two Rivers” by Anonymous

Says Tweed to Till— ‘What gars ye rin sae still?’ Says Till to Tweed— ‘Though ye rin with speed And I rin slaw, For ae man that ye droon I droon twa.’

“Autumn” by Maeng Sa-song

As autumn enters this land of rivers and lakes, even the fishes have become fat. From a small boat, I fling my fishing net, and let it trail with the tide. This body’s pleasure is also a debt we owe to our great king.

Luxurious lady, in elegant long dress in middle of lake

“My river runs to thee” by Emily Dickinson

My river runs to thee: Blue sea, wilt welcome me?

My river waits reply. Oh sea, look graciously!

I ’ll fetch thee brooks From spotted nooks,—

Say, sea, Take me!

“Summer” by Maeng Sa-song

As summer enters this land of rivers and lakes, I find myself idle in my thatched hut. Friendly waves that wash the shores are sent only by the gentle breeze. This body’s coolness is also a debt we owe to our great king.

“Spring” by Maeng Sa-song

As spring enters this land of rivers and lakes, without reason I feel mad delight. In festive mood, a banquet is laid of freshly caught fish and country wines. This body’s leisure is a debt we owe to our great king.

Attractive redhead woman queen in red dress with long train. Golden crown on hair.

“Constance Hately” by Edgar Lee Masters

You praise my self-sacrifice, Spoon River, In rearing Irene and Mary, Orphans of my older sister! And you censure Irene and Mary For their contempt for me! But praise not my self-sacrifice, And censure not their contempt; I reared them, I cared for them, true enough!— But I poisoned my benefactions With constant reminders of their dependence.

“Suicide’s Note” by Langston Hughes

The calm, Cool face of the river Asked me for a kiss.

“East River” by Lola Ridge

Dour river Jaded with monotony of lights Diving off mast heads…. Lights mad with creating in a river… turning its sullen back…. Heave up, river… Vomit back into the darkness your spawn of light… The night will gut what you give her.

Marmaid, sirene sitting on stone, waiting on sunset.

“Rivers To The Sea” by Sara Teasdale

But what of her whose heart is troubled by it, The mother who would soothe and set him free, Fearing the song’s storm-shaken ecstasy Oh, as the moon that has no power to quiet The strong wind-driven sea.

“Conversion” by T. E. Hulme

Lighthearted I walked into the valley wood In the time of hyacinths, Till beauty like a scented cloth Cast over, stifled me. I was bound Motionless and faint of breath By loveliness that is her own eunuch.

Now pass I to the final river Ignominiously, in a sack, without sound, As any peeping Turk to the Bosphorus.

“A View of the Han River” by Kiang Kung-hu (Witter Bynner, Translator)

With its three Hsiang branches it reaches Ch’u border And with nine streams touches the gateway of Ching: This river runs beyond heaven and earth, Where the color of mountains both is and is not. The dwellings of men seem floating along On ripples of the distant sky…. O Hsiang-yang, how your beautiful days Make drunken my old mountain-heart!

Fantasy woman real mermaid myth goddess of sea.

“The River-God” by Charles Henry Lüders

A giant docile to obey your will, A comrade,—a companion,—a refrain Threading a dream; yet, laughing like a rill, He’ll bear your drownèd body to the main.

“Gray River” by Jewell Bothwell Tull

Gray river, Do you care that the wind’s kisses are cold now? That they are putting away the little summer boats?

Interesting Literature

10 of the Best Poems about Water

By Dr Oliver Tearle (Loughborough University)

Previously, we’ve offered our pick of the best rain poems , the best river poems ,  and the best sea poems .  Now, we’re broadening the focus a little to ‘the best water poems’…

1. Anonymous, ‘ The Seafarer ’.

This 124-line poem is often considered an elegy , since it appears to be spoken by an old sailor looking back on his life and preparing for death. He discusses the solitariness of a life on the waves, the cold, the danger, and the hardships.

As such, the poem captures the bewitching fascination the sea holds for us, but also its darker, more unpredictable side. Ezra Pound produced a loose translation of the poem in the early twentieth century.

2. Henry Vaughan, ‘ The Water-Fall ’.

With what deep murmurs through time’s silent stealth Doth thy transparent, cool, and wat’ry wealth Here flowing fall, And chide, and call, As if his liquid, loose retinue stay’d Ling’ring, and were of this steep place afraid …

As we’ve written elsewhere , there’s something about the seventeenth-century poet Henry Vaughan which smacks more of the later Romantic movement than of the Metaphysical ‘school’ to which he belonged. This poem, describing the natural beauty of the waterfall, is a fine demonstration of how Vaughan anticipated Romanticism by over a century.

3. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, ‘ The Rime of the Ancient Mariner ’.

Day after day, day after day, We stuck, nor breath nor motion; As idle as a painted ship Upon a painted ocean.

Water, water, every where, And all the boards did shrink; Water, water, every where, Nor any drop to drink …

Coleridge’s classic 1798 poem first featured in Lyrical Ballads , the volume Coleridge co-authored with William Wordsworth. Wordsworth disliked ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’, a long narrative poem inspired by a story Coleridge had heard from a Somerset sailor, and only reluctantly allowed it to be included in reprints of the collection.

Coleridge’s poem, which is now recognised as a classic, contains perhaps the most famous poetic lines about water in the whole of English literature: ‘Water, water, anywhere, / Nor any drop to drink.’

4. John Masefield, ‘ Sea-Fever ’.

One of the most famous sea poems in English literature, ‘Sea-Fever’ was published in 1902 in Masefield’s collection Salt-Water Ballads , when the poet was in his mid-twenties. Although its opening line is most familiar as ‘I must go down to the sea again’, it began life in its 1902 incarnation as the slightly odder ‘I must down to the seas again’.

5. D. H. Lawrence, ‘ Autumn Rain ’.

The plane leaves fall black and wet on the lawn;

the cloud sheaves in heaven’s fields set droop and are drawn

in falling seeds of rain;

This delicate poem, whose short lines and short stanzas suggest the droplets of falling rain, was first published in 1917, and the casualties of the First World War may be hinted at by Lawrence’s ‘dead / men that are slain’. The harvest time and Christian redemption are united under the rain falling from heaven.

6. H. D., ‘ The Pool ’.

This short five-line poem is, along with ‘Oread’, Hilda Doolittle’s finest achievement as an Imagist poet. The speaker of the poem comes across something in the waters of a pool and wonders what it is. Is it her own reflection? Or another human being? Or something else? We’ve discussed this ambiguous poem here .

7. T. S. Eliot, ‘ The Dry Salvages ’.

The third of Eliot’s Four Quartets , ‘The Dry Salvages’ – although it sounds like a most unwatery poem – actually takes its name from les trois sauvages , a group of rocks off Cape Ann in Massachusetts. The five sections of the poem offer various meditations on water – look out in particular for the tour de force that is Eliot’s take on the sestina form at the beginning of the second section.

The poem begins with a comparison between the river and the sea. The ‘strong brown’ river, the Mississippi, which is ‘untamed and intractable’, and has served as a frontier and as a conduit for commerce. But unlike the river, which is within us, the sea is  all about  us. The river is a ‘god’, but the sea has ‘many gods’ and ‘many voices’: a polytheistic force of nature.

8. Philip Larkin, ‘ Water ’.

This unrhymed poem from Larkin’s 1964 volume The Whitsun Weddings sees the poet declaring that water would make a fitting subject for a religion: after all, we rely on water and our lives revolve around it as we drink it and wash and bathe in it. Larkin’s reference to ‘any-angled light’ suggests that water unites us all in this respect.

Many religions, of course, make use of water, especially the various sects of Christianity which include baptism as a holy ritual or sacrament: whether it’s the baby’s head being wetted by water from the font, or complete immersion into the water, many Christians have been baptised, and water has symbolised the purification of that person’s soul in preparation for a life of religious devotion.

But Larkin’s hypothetical religion would place water even more at the centre of things: people going to his church would  regularly  come into contact with water, ‘fording’ (wading?) towards special, dry clothes which they would change into, following their weekly baptism or dunking.

The religious sermon and holy text, the ‘liturgy’, would feature watery imagery. And the most powerful symbol of all, perhaps, would be the humble glass of water, which would be raised ‘in the east’ (symbolising new births and beginnings?).

9. Sylvia Plath, ‘ Crossing the Water ’.

The water being crossed in this poem is, first and foremost, the boundary between the United States and Canada – but the poem is also suffused with images of darkness and blackness which suggest that another boundary, between life and death, is also being summoned.

10. Oliver Tearle, ‘ Breaking the Ice ’.

This is how you will be reborn. The rush of those million tiny fireflies, baby swimmers, is a return to one’s own origins. The fish

fill the dark with their glow. Life quickens. Night bursts into new possibilities of light.

Let’s conclude our pick of watery poems with a contemporary example from our founder-editor, the literary critic and poet Oliver Tearle. This poem, about wild-swimming at night among shoals of bioluminescent fish, likens this transformative experience to a kind of rebirth, with water once again carrying a truly cathartic power.

write river poem

1 thought on “10 of the Best Poems about Water”

Are comments closed for all past posts? I wanted to post a comment about Best Poems on Rivers and Streams, but here at Best Poems About Water will work. My favorite poem about streams must be this:

The tide in the river, The tide in the river, The tide in the river runs deep. I saw a shiver Pass over the river As the tide turned in its sleep.

–Eleanor Farejon

Thank you for your always-stimulating articles and lists!

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  • Famous Poems about Rivers: Flowing Words of Inspiration

Rivers have captivated the hearts and minds of poets throughout history. Their ceaseless flow, majestic beauty, and symbolic significance have served as inspiration for countless verses and stanzas. From serene streams to roaring rapids, rivers offer a metaphorical landscape through which poets can explore themes of life, love, and the passage of time. In this article, we will explore some of the most famous poems about rivers and delve into the rich imagery and profound emotions they evoke.

"The River Merchant's Wife: A Letter" by Li Bai

"the negro speaks of rivers" by langston hughes, "the waste land" by t.s. eliot.

One of the most celebrated poets in Chinese literature, Li Bai, penned the renowned poem " The River Merchant's Wife: A Letter ." This poignant piece captures the progression of love and the impact of time on relationships. The river, serving as a metaphor for life's journey, plays a central role in the narrative as it separates the two lovers.

Li Bai beautifully portrays the river's significance in the lines:

"My hair had hardly covered my forehead; In those days, I was never even allowed out of the door. And you came, on horseback, to take me And now we have let our hair grow long."

Through these verses, Li Bai illustrates the passage of time, symbolized by the flowing river, as it transforms both the speaker and her relationship. The poem seamlessly intertwines the river's flow with the emotional journey of the characters, leaving readers captivated by the bittersweet tale.

In his powerful poem " The Negro Speaks of Rivers ," Langston Hughes explores the deep-rooted connection between African Americans and rivers. Through vivid imagery and historical allusions, Hughes delves into the cultural and spiritual significance of rivers in African American history.

The poem's opening lines are particularly impactful:

"I've known rivers: I've known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins."

Hughes draws parallels between the enduring strength of rivers and the resilience of the African American people. The poem then takes readers on a profound journey through time and space, highlighting the interwoven nature of rivers and the African American experience.

No discussion of famous river poems would be complete without mentioning T.S. Eliot's magnum opus, " The Waste Land ." This modernist masterpiece is a complex and multi-layered exploration of a post-war world, where rivers take on a symbolic role.

In the section titled "The Fire Sermon," Eliot describes the polluted and decaying Thames River:

"Sweet Thames, run softly, till I end my song, Sweet Thames, run softly, for I speak not loud or long."

Eliot employs the Thames River as a representation of the lost innocence and moral decay of society. The river's once pristine nature has been tarnished, mirroring the disarray and disillusionment of the modern world. This poem stands as a testament to the transformative power of rivers in reflecting the human condition.

Rivers have long served as a wellspring of inspiration for poets across cultures and ages. Through their ebb and flow, rivers invite reflection on the passage of time, the complexities of human relationships, and the broader human experience. From Li Bai's melancholic love letter to Hughes' celebration of African American heritage, and Eliot's somber reflection on society, these famous poems about rivers continue to resonate with readers, transporting them to the banks of these powerful and ever-changing natural wonders.

  • Famous Poems about Infidelity: Exploring Love, Betrayal, and Heartbreak
  • Poems that Celebrate the Unsung Heroes: Nurses

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Springtime Poetry for Elementary Students

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Poster poems: Rivers

Wherever I've lived, I've always found myself drawn to the nearest river. It's a complex set of attractions: the sound of water flowing; the freight of history that generally surrounds any waterway; the fluid progression that rivers evoke. I've even been known to write the odd poem on the matter of rivers in my time .

Rivers are, I think, interesting to poets because they combine a linear narrative of beginning, middle and end with a cyclical flow of endless renewal, as the source is refreshed by the same material that forms the end. Indeed, this sense of alluvial recycling informs one of the greatest of all river "poems", Joyce's Finnegans Wake . On one level, the Wake is probably the most extensive playing out of all the possible linguistic river tropes there are.

Langston Hughes reaches into the deep past in his poem The Negro Speaks of Rivers ; here the river gives depth not only to the speaker's soul, but to his power to outlast the less fluid element of oppression that governs his current circumstances. The juxtaposition with the Euphrates, Congo and Nile serve to turn the Mississippi, at least for a moment, into an essentially African river.

In Crossing Brooklyn Ferry , Walt Whitman takes a different approach. His river is an eternal present into whose flow he plunges headlong to take his place with those who come after him. Where Hughes laments exclusion, Whitman celebrates unity in diversity; all things flow with the river and become as one in its flow. The poet steps into the same river once.

If Whitman spent much of his life on the banks of New York's East River, Lorine Niedecker lived most of hers in and around Wisconsin's Rock River, a tributary of the Mississippi. The life of the river infuses her work, particularly the poem Paean to Place . Niedecker's "I" is a great deal more low key, more human, than Whitman's, and her poem, although ostensibly about her own family history, is also a song of praise to those who live on and live off these more modest rivers.

If the Rock River is infused by the actual, the one that flows through HD's Leda flows through the land of myth, and yet it seems to have the weight of real water in it. In Yeats's very fine poem on the same theme , the swans are suspended in a plane without a background, but HD's swans are real swans in a real world whose blood flows like the river they inhabit.

Some poets have set out to make poems that trace the course of a river from source to sea. The best-known recent example of this genre is probably Alice Oswald's Dart , a poem that blends documentary and free verse forms to create a portrait of a particular river in as concrete a way as the poet can manage.

However, Oswald is far from being the genre's originator. Almost 200 years before Dart appeared, William Wordsworth wrote The River Duddon , a sequence of 33 sonnets that map the eponymous stream from its source on Wrynose Fell to its mouth on the Irish Sea in a form and diction that may strike the modern reader as somewhat overly rigid for the subject. The contrast between the two sequences could hardly be greater, and yet the underlying impulse is much the same; to pay homage to their chosen river in all its complexity.

And so, this time around the Poster Poem challenge is to write original poems inspired by rivers. It may be a river you know well, or one you've never seen. It might even be a river like Coleridge's Alph , seen only in a dream. The important thing is to let the words and inspiration flow freely.

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River Poems

River poems from famous poets and best beautiful poems to feel good. Best river poems ever written. Read all poems about river.


The calm, Cool face of the river Asked me for a kiss. ...

A Rock, A River, A Tree Hosts to species long since departed, Mark the mastodon. The dinosaur, who left dry tokens ...

The sun has burst the sky Because I love you And the river its banks. ...

All those men were there inside, when she came in totally naked. They had been drinking: they began to spit. Newly come from the river, she knew nothing. ...

I come from haunts of coot and hern, I make a sudden sally And sparkle out among the fern, To bicker down a valley. ...

At six o'clock we were waiting for coffee, waiting for coffee and the charitable crumb that was going to be served from a certain balcony - like kings of old, or like a miracle. ...

Broad sun-stoned beaches. White heat. A green river. ...

Some time when the river is ice ask me mistakes I have made. Ask me whether what I have done is my life. Others have come in their slow way into ...

Traveling through the dark I found a deer dead on the edge of the Wilson River road. It is usually best to roll them into the canyon: that road is narrow; to swerve might make more dead. ...

Then Almitra spoke, saying, 'We would ask now of Death.' And he said: ...

There was movement at the station, for the word had passed around That the colt from old Regret had got away, And had joined the wild bush horses - he was worth a thousand pound, So all the cracks had gathered to the fray. ...

if there is a river more beautiful than this bright as the blood red edge of the moon if ...

At gauzy dusk, thin haze like cigarette smoke ribbons past Chrysler Building's silver fins tapering delicately needletopped, Empire State's taller antenna filmed milky lit amid blocks ...

The deep parts of my life pour onward, as if the river shores were opening out. It seems that things are more like me now, That I can see farther into paintings. ...

Suzanne takes you down to her place near the river You can hear the boats go by You can spend the night beside her And you know that she's half crazy ...

I said to the wanting-creature inside me: What is this river you want to cross? There are no travelers on the river-road, and no road. Do you see anyone moving about on that bank, or nesting? ...

What was he doing, the great god Pan, Down in the reeds by the river? Spreading ruin and scattering ban, Splashing and paddling with hoofs of a goat, ...

Your hair is lost in the forest, your feet touching mine. Asleep you are bigger than the night, but your dream fits within this room. ...

born from a spring from mother earth's womb an adventurous child hood and teen ...

I reason death in its glorious beauty Like golden evening cloud On a bright sunny day ...


Stale Tales Of The River The river froths at the mouth choked by all manner of modern life artefacts ...

Appreciation of the Bilingual Poem Reaching Yellow River Author: ChatGPT Reaching Yellow River ...

I'm walking through a slimy foggy world and I can't find any way out. That simple light of my world has flashed off and away. Little interest, slimy sorrow, all the things that were once fun they are long over and done. No ease to the brain and sorrow it pours over us dragging us down, down, down into a slimy cold graying river of sorrow suppose we are built with stone our minds tortured and grim, hauntings of past or future drag us down to ways of little or no return things feel wrong to feel Ahh judgments are in the air but we still get pulled and dragged way, way down a slimy cold river of sorrow turning us to stone never fear the end isn't near we may be tortured but there's a desire to live and breathe Ahh yes we are the broken never a dull moment I suppose to the other eye they see fine perhaps even pretty? But they see no further than to skin while deep down in our bones and our detached souls we are the broken our commands of light never answer the broken shadow of us we may haunt others the strong the ones that have broken us and torn us from good screams of our voices broken by dawn the slime of our sorrow moved to yours sure we have differences but our shared river of loneliness, sorrow, destroyed love, our world is different why can't you see? Perhaps you pretend to seam the hurt the pain but you really can't wrap it around your brain perhaps the untouched wonder or ask how can one be like that? It must be a tale A faking of such! But truly we walk around in haze these days only lighted by friends but guarded with stone and perhaps sorrow Indeed you may ask but truly our days of our heads held proud It's no longer around we hang our heads in defeat showing that truly as we walk perhaps drown in the slimy river that we know as sorrow we must be built of stone the river of sorrow it clearly seems our feet are sinking perhaps there's a door somewhere upon this foggy mist perhaps we'll escape someday... ...

calmest river flowing reality of change ...

The crystal river flows, ...

Brodie rained for; 9 months,1 week, and 1 day..and made a River ...

water-wisdom in river of impossibility and multi-universal truths of socratic knowthyself -cup ...

Yellow River mother I'm coming. ...

Self-realization of no-self-no-ego river of mental formations. ...

the river the river whispers memory my life bleed waters the river the river flows extravagant quiet birth born dreams the river the river drowns lifeful measures time scent hunts ...

River Poets

Writing a poem is not about bringing some words together to create some charming sentences. It's so much deeper than that. Writing poetry is a bridge that allows people to express their feelings and make others live every single word they read. Poetry is to educate people, to lead them away from hate to love, from violence to mercy and pity. Writing poetry is to help this community better understand life and live it more passionately. PoemHunter.com contains an enormous number of famous poems from all over the world, by both classical and modern poets. You can read as many as you want, and also submit your own poems to share your writings with all our poets, members, and visitors.

River Poets

River poets from members.

Delivering Poems Around The World

Poems are the property of their respective owners. All information has been reproduced here for educational and informational purposes to benefit site visitors, and is provided at no charge...

2/14/2024 10:32:50 PM #

by Valerie Bloom

The River’s a wanderer, A nomad, a tramp, He doesn’t choose one place To set up his camp.

The River’s a winder, Through valley and hill He twists and he turns, He just cannot be still.

The River’s a hoarder, And he buries down deep Those little treasures That he wants to keep.

The River’s a baby, He gurgles and hums, And sounds like he’s happily Sucking his thumbs.

The River’s a singer, As he dances along, The countryside echoes The notes of his song.

The river’s a monster Hungry and vexed, He’s gobbled up trees And he’ll swallow you next.

Copyright: from Let Me Touch the Sky (Macmillan Children's Books, 2000), copyright © Valerie Bloom 2000, used by permission of the author

Valerie Bloom

Valerie Bloom was born in Jamaica, the oldest of nine children, and grew up in a small town surrounded by mountains.  She began writing ...

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Featured in the Archive

An interview with valerie bloom.

For Valerie Bloom her conservatory is her study where she likes to grow poems. Join her ...

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Write to the River — Fall 2017 Prose & Poetry

write river poem

The Mighty Mississippi gently flows between the bridge that connects the hillside and lowland. Photographer Tom Reiter captured the moment above with a paddleboat passenger enjoying the Big River and the iconic High Bridge in St. Paul. We asked readers what inspires them to reflect upon the river, and received a wide range of thoughtful responses. We hope their writing inspires you!

Write to the River is a creative writing project to inspire artistic engagement with our river environment. We invite you to share an original poem or short prose response to seasonal images along the Upper Mississippi River. Our next photo prompt and call for creative writing submissions will be in the December issue of our e-newsletter, " Mississippi Messages ." 

high bridge

by Ellen Fee

how many boats have split the water under these arches, under these stars? centuries of sand piled on these shores, legacy of glaciers and dust. generations behind me each time I trace the water with my eyes, watching the current become sky.

by Chelsi Kahl

My husband and I live on a houseboat. It is not large or glamorous. It is very small, very simple. People always ask, “Why did you decide to do that?”  It is a strange question to answer; I think, “well, why not?” I do formulate an answer to explain what seems so natural to me. I explain that the river has always felt more home than any house. More than an apartment in the city or a house in the suburbs, the river is a peaceful place to rest my head. From childhood on, this river has been a source of calm, wonder, adventure, and growth. The essence of my answer is this- I did not choose the river; the river so easily chose me.

I work at a hospital in downtown Minneapolis; here, the noises, the people, and the tasks are constant. I observe that much of the city feels this way — rushed, distracted. How could I be a good nurse if I only knew chaos? For my patients and their families, I need to be calm, balanced, clear-headed; in such difficult times, a source of peace and focus is vital. The river is my reprieve.

The flow of this grand river reminds me that the world is constantly changing; life does not stand still. The seasonal rises and falls of the mighty Mississippi is sometimes a harsh but necessary reminder that nature is powerful, more powerful than you or me; we must take care of it and respect it.

When I see trash in the river, I wish I could bring the person who left it to this place so that they too could recognize the consequences of small and simple actions. I admire the stoic stance of the blue heron as I kayak by. He thinks I don’t see him, so I play along and admire quietly.

Every part of nature is felt here — the cold, the wind, the storms, the geese as they fly overhead in migration and the people too. People along the river feel nature so intimately. They feel the change of the season because they are a part of it. Just like the geese flying above or the beavers storing food for winter, we, the weird boat people, prepare too. Winter will not keep us away from the river. We will adapt and remain; no matter the circumstance, this river is home.

Notes from the Owner's Manual

by Jim Larson

To start, you need to invent gravity; and give it time to work its way with things. Then you find a slope and add some water, lots of it, like from a dying glacier. Congratulations! You’ve just made a river.

Or, on a good day, take two continents and arrange a gradual collision. Then you wait for several million years to grow a mountain range. And after that you let the continents relax. The ditch you get will probably find an ocean. Then just leave your handiwork alone. The rain will find it and know what to do. Let somebody else give it a name.

River concrete poem

by Christine Bronk

Write to the River in Motion

the Boat section (brown): Boats carrying anglers ride upon the flow. Lines are cast, create eddies, bait is out, seeking to catch the big one. the Rocks/Underwater log section (black): Rocks upon the riverbed create eddies, minor changes in current, small pockets of rapids; Or, deeper below the surface, catching and trapping branches and logs and snagging lures. the River section (various shades of blue): Water flows on, continuously streaming, carrying leaves, twigs, sand, mud, and boats. The river moves and meanders, taking the route of least resistance, seeking the ocean.

Water moves, quickly running and churning, or lazily drifting; The paces change, but not the motion.

Water erodes banks and deposits sandbars, shaping the landscape; Taking life in flooding, Giving life in sustenance. A continuous, flowing dance.

Water, like time, marches one, carrying all of us with it. Mighty Mississippi

by Linda Moua

At any given moment I feel as though I am guest on her flowing body At this very moment She provides passage to spy on carefully hidden neighbors

At any given moment I could fall though her chilly surface and suffer an abrupt shock At this very moment She can only feel the towing of my paddles left to right

At any given moment I look up to her thicket of verdant friends to find inner peace At this very moment She has craftily coaxed me to silence as I slip into awe

At any given moment I see that I am only a small explorer in her noble domain Because at this very moment She has painted me a self- portrait of who she is and why she is mighty

Deep Freeze

by Margie O’Loughlin

Today it is bone-chillingly cold But dogs and their owners are intrepid So I bundle up for our daily walk And we head down to the river anyhow

My dog Lola is unaffected by the cold Though her coat is not luxurious She has produced a little frost beard this morning And lifts her paws in a brisk, attractive way

The mighty Mississippi was brown with mud two days ago But this morning, thick ice reaches from shore to shore Snow devils whirl and twist across its surface The ducks and the geese are silent

I throw a stick for Lola, and it hovers in the air As if it can’t push through The trees are groaning, the ice is snapping Lola’s stick finally crashes to the ground

Suddenly wind fills the river valley In a cheek-puffing exhale of such strength I think it must have come from the top of the world Gathering force as it surged across the ice fields of the Arctic

Every now and then someone will ask me how I can stand it here But I know I will never leave Like the wind that came to rest in the river valley this morning This is the place I call home.

Río de Dios (in Spanish)

- para chris stanley.

by Sarah Degner Riveros

Hay un río que alegra la ciudad de Dios. Hay en el río las aguas brillantes que reflejan el cielo urbano. Hay en la orilla las raíces de los sauces que lamentan y los rizos de los helechos acurrucados al lado del río. Hay una mano divina que mueve las aguas profundas y turbulentas del Río Mississippi. Hay una multitud de peces y plantas que fluyen por el agua que los nutre a lo largo del caudal. Hay en la ribera una manada de niños que gritan y brincan al agua y nos hacen olvidar. En las profundidades del fondo del río, en la oscuridad, descansa el lodo del cual Dios nos formó. Hay en el puente una madre que llora, y un hijo gimiendo Quédate con nosotros porque ya está de noche, y las aguas son profundas y oscuras. Hay un río que se acongoja con la ciudad de Dios. Hay en la ciudad un río de Dios. Hay un río. ¡Ay, Dios!

River of God (in English)

 - for chris stanley.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God. There in the river are sparkling waters that reflect the urban sky. There on the shore, the roots of the willows lament and the curls of ferns cuddle beside the river. There is a divine hand that moves the deep and turbulent waters of the River Mississippi. There are a multitude of fish and plants that feed among the waters that nourish them all along the river's flow. On the river bank, a handful of children shout and jump in the water and they make us forget. In the depths of the river bottom, the mud from which God formed us is resting. There is a bridge where a mother cries and a son is groaning. Stay with us for now it is night and the waters are deep and dark. There is a river that grieves with the city of God. There in the city is a river of God. There is a river. Oh, dear God. ¡Ay, Dios!

The Water Wheel

by Johannah Bomster

Snow, ice, water. Winter, then snowmelt runoff and Spring rains. Geese. They mate for life. Eggs, goslings, geese. The wheel. The wheel. The wheel.

by Cecelia Watkins

staying. what does it feel like? tell me, old battered willow is it easier when you’ve no choice in the matter?

is it as simple as a single decision or must it be an active choosing an every day re-committing while knowing the rest of the world spins on, enchanting, tantalizing within easy reach… all it would take is to lift the foot and go.

the river is a trickster teacher. at a glance she is a constant, steady yet the water does not stay. and still somehow the moving flow it makes a home, it curves out cozy hollowed banks and builds a nest of dogwood, red as hearts on valentines.

can one live fully without going? ask the willow. can one love fully without staying? ask the river.

Get Them To The River

we must get them to the river. all else can be abandoned. leave behind curriculae, all plans, intentions, adult inventions just step aside with open arms and watch:           children run to running water.

mussel shells and beaver pelt life must be smelled, it must be felt! let us all circle Cottonwood and ask, how many of us could hold her in a hug? how many has she held throughout her flood-ecstatic steady life?

the beach is rife with rocks to skip yes pick one up and throw just so— these eager little humans pitch the stones like playground balls and though they fall straight to the depths the splashing plunk still makes them laugh.

when time is running short we ditch all our spreadsheet laid out stations when you are 10 you have no patience to wait and watch to sit and listen we must let them reach the river.

The Eldest Daughter Questions Mississippi, The Father of Waters

by Willow Thompson

Father, will you play with me? .......Daughter, you might not have noticed, but I am playing constantly--jumping, rolling, making waves, becoming quiet for no reason. Just waiting for you to join me!

Father, what was it like when you were very young? .......Daughter, I'll explain it to you some day. Time is a mystery. I come from humble beginnings, but many streams have joined me, many storms have watered me, and many winter squalls have slowed my progress. My job is just to observe and keep moving.

Father, were you always so handsome? .......Daughter, I'm just who I am. It's only through your eyes that I seem great, eternal, or wise.

Father, when you leave, will you take me with you? .......Daughter, I never know where I might rest, but every time you visit and enjoy my company, I am giving you knowledge that will help you follow your own path.

Father, I'm getting very busy...I may not be able to visit you for a long time. .......Daughter, you're an adult now. You have many obligations. Take them on wholeheartedly. Just remember I will always be here for you whenever you need me. Don't be afraid if I seem distant. I'll always have a place for you to rest.

Father? Father? .......[It's winter now. All is silent.]

Father? I'm alone. I'm scared. Please speak to me. .......[The trees are bare, the woods are quiet. The animals are gone or sleeping in secret places. The River is still and its surface is white with deep blue ice where it passes near the Daughter's home.]

.......[from a Great Distance:  My daughter, I love you. Please think of me in the springtime when the new birds sing. Visit me in summer- it will be warmer then, and even if we don't speak, we can still sit together and share a silence. Come to me in October, when the trees rain golden leaves and the shortened days still leave time for remembrance. Even in winter, I will always be here in some form, until it is time for me to slow down long enough to bring a boat... to show you the way home.

Lost and Found 

by Justin Florey

On Father’s Day, I took my older boy down to where Minnehaha Creek flows into the Mississippi River. We parked our bikes by some bushes where the path eroded away into sand. My son wanted to look for lost fishing lures to place in the little tackle box I had given him. He carried it everywhere, even to his weekly appointment with the counselor who was altogether befuddled by his ramblings about Mepps spinners and Mister Twisters. The tackle box was almost filled to capacity and he was already pestering me for a larger one. It perturbed me that every gift seemed to somehow necessitate another.

“Just be satisfied with what you have,” I told him which was something I was forever telling myself.

The bank was crowded with people angling and throwing rocks. A festive procession crossed the footbridge to follow the creek back up to the waterfall. The creek was a foot lower than the last time we had been there catching bluegills from the bridge. Now the water was too fast and low for that. I commented to him how the river was a little different each time. I pointed out the island out towards the dam, how sometimes it was underwater with just the trees visible. I told him we’d canoe out to it someday and fish. He seemed a bit lost as to where to begin his search. I suggested he try looking in the exposed roots of a dead tree that usually held fish when the water was up. He managed to find a few jigs and a bobber but seemed disappointed.

“Well, you can keep on looking if want or help me pick up trash,” I said raising the Hefty bag I had brought along.

We split off in opposite directions. I stooped over to place the discarded energy drink cans, plastic water bottles, bait containers, broken beer bottles, soggy diapers, and whatever other manner of American detritus I could find into the sack. It was sickening to me that people treated the shoreline of what I considered a national treasure with such contempt. Almost unavoidably, when I told anyone I liked to fish there for walleye and smallmouth, they were surprised that anything other than a carp could live in such a polluted sewer. Well, I wouldn’t drink out of it, but it did support an incredible abundance of life--birds especially. I almost always spied a bald eagle or a heron whenever I went there. As I like to tell my boys, “If you throw a worm into the Mississippi, you never know what you might catch.”

I turned my attention to an accumulation of bottle glass along the concrete wall of a graffiti-covered storm drain. Drunken hooligans had tossed their empties down from above. I smiled apologetically for intruding on a Spanish-speaking family fishing nearby. Pausing in my collection, I looked around for Miles but couldn’t see him. I hurriedly gathered the rest of the trash along the wall and went back toward the bridge. The bag was heavy now and I was eager to dispose of it. Finally, I picked him out of the crowd by his bicycle helmet. Moving along the shore, he looked like a walking mushroom as he scanned the river-stones for treasure.

I paused near the dead tree where a man was staring intently into the water as he repeated the same short cast with a plastic worm. Utilizing my polarized sunglasses, I could make out a pike undulating in place like an eel in the creek current. I reached Miles and showed him all the trash I had collected. He grumpily showed me a hook he had found.

“That’s a good catfish hook,” I told him. “Should we get back home? You seem tired and I don’t want to keep you out here too late.”

“No,” he snapped. “I’ve barely found anything. I’m still looking.”

“All right, a little longer. Look son, people don’t want to lose their fishing lures.They’re expensive. You just have to find them by accident when you fish. If you go out looking for them it won’t happen. That’s how it works. Why don’t you look in those rocks?”

Riprap lined the shore all the way to the lock and dam. I watched him balance nimbly on the boulders and concrete slabs. He had become a boy, determined with his own interests. I cautioned him to be careful. My son possesses a great innocence and sensitivity, an openness to new experience that will unavoidably dull over time. People will make him ashamed of these qualities and he will learn to disguise them from the world. He will be corrupted. He will grow up. I cannot stop this from happening, nor would I want to. I can only recognize this moment we inhabit together as special.

“Try looking under the rocks where people might have gotten snagged. The best time to try would be right after the water level drops. I’m going to get those plastic bottles up there and then we’re going to leave. We need to get you into bed.”

We scrambled up the bank. I placed the bag of trash into a barrel and went to the spot I had left the bikes. I looked down at the blank area of grass a bit startled and confused.

“We left them somewhere around here,” I said turning my head about wildly as I walked in a circle.

“Our bikes were stolen,” my son stated in a flat, dejected way.

I felt gutted, like something had been carved out of me from my throat to my solar plexus. I placed my hand on my son’s small shoulder.

“I’m sorry this happened. This is Dad’s fault.” I looked around at the laughing people feeling altogether violated and stupid. “I should have locked them up.” I looked into my son’s face. He was calmer than I would have expected, in shock I suppose. “We’ll have to walk home.”

I was relieved he was taking it so well. Two miles would have been a long way to carry him. I took out my phone then put it away. I was quite worried about what my wife would say. We walked quickly down the gravel path, both of us angry in our strides.

“Maybe we can catch up to them,” I said even though this was absurd given they had bikes and we didn’t. We both had our helmets on. God, I felt like a fool! “You might get to see Dad kick someone’s ass,” I muttered.

I was angry with myself. I had that mountain bike since 1995. It was a damn good bike. I thought of all the miles I’d rode on it. Then an image of my son standing confidently on the pedals of his own bike formed before my eyes. On the way there, I had been so proud of how well he rode. He’d started out the season on training wheels, reverting to them after a bad experience. The bike had been a little big for him before. It was his first bike. I had given it to him for his birthday. Now it was gone. What kind of a sociopath steals a father and son’s bicycles on Father’s Day? I realized that I had become overly comfortable, living in some imagined bubble. There were rapists and murderers living in Minneapolis. I had to do a better job looking out for my son. I stopped walking and rubbed his back, asking him if he was ok.

“I want my bike back,” he declared angrily.

“Look, we’ll get you a new bike. This is Dad’s fault. This isn’t your fault.”

 “Can I get a mountain bike?” he asked, perking up.

“Maybe, I have to talk to Mom. Money’s a little tight right now. We’ll take care of you. You’re gonna have a bike.” We started walking again. “I just want you to remember how this made you feel. That’s why we never steal from anyone, because this is how it makes them feel.”

He furrowed his brow and nodded in deep understanding.

“You saw all those people down there. Most people are good. But a small number of bad ones ruin it for everyone else.”

He nodded again. I texted my wife the unfortunate news. We came to a pool where kids like to wade with a large family gathering nearby. I looked for our bikes amongst the crowd of picnickers. Internally, I continued to beat myself up. The evening before Miles had complained about being bored and I suggested we hang the birdhouse that had been in the basement since winter.

The ground was a bit uneven and the footing on the small stepladder wobbled under me as I strained to fasten the birdhouse to the limb with a length of rope. To make him feel involved, I asked him to hold the ladder. I immediately realized this was stupid, but blundered ahead anyway. The rope slipped and I saw the house strike the top of his head and the bright red blood on his shirt.

“Oh, my God!” I exclaimed and ran for a towel.

It looked worse than it was, a small cut in his scalp that didn’t require stitches. We got it to stop bleeding. I’d started my second beer before this happened. I was always scrambling to meet the demands of my family. I barely had time to take a shower, let alone sit down when I came home from work. I needed things to stop moving so fast, but I knew they never would. We had left the river area and came to the playground. I wanted to check the bike racks by the waterfall in case someone had just taken them for a joyride. It was a slim chance, but I wasn’t ready yet to let go. Miles had been complaining about his legs being tired. I asked if it would be all right to leave him. 

“I don’t want to lose you too,” I said.

I jogged down to the falls and, of course, found nothing, many bikes but none of them ours. I hurried back to Miles. We checked at the Dairy Queen because, as I said to him, “criminals tend not to be the brightest people.” Walking along the sidewalk of Minnehaha Avenue, I noticed someone walking a bike with someone else riding a block ahead. It looked like a children’s bike.

“Those could be our bikes,” I said to Miles.

I started running. Miles started running too. They weren’t our bikes which was probably just as well. I felt like a 12-year-old. It was time I got my son home. Bike-less, we said hello to the neighbors without explaining what had happened and put our helmets in the garage. He started crying when he got inside the house. After we’d finally got him settled down, I saw him throwing punches in the air inside the shower.

A couple of days later, Emily found a children’s mountain bike at a good price on Craigslist. I drove Miles to Roseville and we checked it out. It was black with gears and a suspension fork. Miles loved it. I had been concerned about him using a handbrake. He didn’t have any problems. My first bike had been a red Schwinn with a banana seat. It had a horn and a bell. My parents made me put a flag on it. When I got to be school-age I realized I should have bought a dirt bike like the cool kids. Driving home with the knobby-tired bike in the trunk, I felt redeemed.

“This is kind of an upgrade,” Miles said happily from the backseat.

The next evening, I took him on some flat trails that meandered through the trees along the Minnesota River. He tried to go through the first puddle he saw and got stuck in the mud. 

“You have to go around the big puddles here,” I said. “You better follow me.”

With his low center of gravity and fearlessness, he was a natural, cruising over obstacles that I didn’t even attempt with the narrow tires of my wife’s bike. It had been years since I had been on that trail.

“I love mountain biking!” he cried out in exuberance more than once. Both him and his bike were covered in mud. He could ride as fast as me.

“If you’re doing this at 7, think what you’ll be doing at 17.” I told him. “Dad won’t be able to keep up with you.”

“Yeah!” he cried.

“Dad will be old then,” I said too quiet for him to hear. “Dad’s old now.”

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Open Rivers Journal - Rethinking Water, Place & Community

Writing the River

WTTR welcomes new river related meanings and links through creative writing.

By Leslie Thomas

What does the river say to you? This is the core question posed by Write to the River (WTTR), a creative writing project that I launched in partnership with the Twin Cities nonprofit Friends of the Mississippi River (FMR) and photographer Tom Reiter, in spring 2017.

Writing is not just for the Robert Frosts of the world or for professional writers who see themselves as artists. We all can be writers capturing the truth of our own lives, with their pain, joys, grittiness and heroism, if we give ourselves a chance to trust our voice. Expressive writing can serve a wide variety of life-enhancing purposes. Fundamentally, when we put pen to paper, we have the opportunity to celebrate who we are and create a tangible product that surprises us with welcome new meanings and links. (Chavis 2011, 160)

WTTR is an open invitation, a call for all to engage with our river environment through story or poetic verse. No professional or river-related experience is necessary. All ages and writing styles are welcome, including short prose, formal verse or one’s own verse. It offers an opportunity to create, and a platform to share a river connection.

WTTR welcomes new river related meanings and links through creative writing.

WTTR welcomes new river related meanings and links through creative writing.

It is also substantially different from the rest of FMR’s work. Over its 25 years, FMR has grown to be recognized as a hardworking and strong force for good for the metro Mississippi. Annually, it attracts thousands of people (myself included) to speak up at the capitol in St. Paul, and get our hands dirty (literally) at events where we dig, pull, and plant for the river. So how does a creative project like this fit into such a robust action- and results-oriented organization? Better than we ever thought it would.

A Great River Story: Friends of the Mississippi River

In 1992, a roomful of people gathered to lay out the future of a new national park flowing through the heart of the metro Twin Cities, the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area . (MNRRA).

At one of the first public meetings to create a management plan for the park, a few “river rats” looked around and felt a bit out of place. While people representing business and government interests were in attendance, there weren’t many like them: people who loved the river and were willing to speak on its behalf. That’s when Friends of the Mississippi River was born.

Officially incorporated in 1993, FMR has grown from a handful of founders to engage over 5,000 people annually as river advocates and volunteers—at community meetings, at the capitol, and in hands-on river protection and restoration projects. FMR headquarters has grown from a walk-in closet to a half-floor of a downtown St. Paul building with 19 staff in four departments: water quality, river corridor and land-use, land protection, and stewardship and public engagement.

Two deer swim in the river. The water is so deep that only their heads are visible.

Out for a swim: trees along the river improve water quality and wildlife habitat.

Over the years the organization has protected and restored thousands of acres of forest and prairie habitat,  reduced harmful pollutants , and protected our sense of identity as a river city by preserving beloved views, parks, and natural areas that connect our metro communities to the river. All the while, it continues to cultivate tomorrow’s river stewards, engaging over a thousand youth in river protection and education activities annually.

“But none of this work would be possible,” says Whitney Clark, now in his 21 st year as executive director of FMR, “if it weren’t for our collective affinity for the river.”

That affinity is fostered by personal and cultural connections. For Clark, it was fishing with his grandfather that strengthened his connection to nature. “During our shore lunches we listened to the waves lapping against the boat, observed the sunlight reflecting on the trees along the rocky shores. Being there with him, it was easy for me to love the natural world.” Today, Clark is proud to pass this value to the next generation, both via FMR and in his own family.

Perspective from sitting in a canoe over very still water. Trees on a small island are reflected in the water.

Paddling tranquil water: one of the many ways to connect with the Mississippi River.

One of the biggest overarching accomplishments, Clark notes, is of a different nature. “It is the large movement we created, elevating the profile and status of the Mississippi River in our area. Now, community members ask the question ‘Will it hurt the river?’ before proceeding.”  This is a significant change in the metro-wide conversation, a paradigm shift. And even though it isn’t one that we can put numbers to, that doesn’t mean it isn’t important. In fact, it may be FMR’s most important accomplishment in its 25 years.

“ FMR is about protecting the health and integrity of the Mississippi River system that we are each connected to in one way or another,” adds Clark. “Our collective affinity for the river serves as the scaffolding for all of FMR’s work; so providing a forum for people to celebrate the river and connect to one another is our core mission.”

Start by Planting Seeds

When I moved closer to the Mississippi River in 2013, I wanted to learn how I could help protect and connect to my new landscape. I found FMR online and signed up to receive their biweekly “Mississippi Messages.” Then I responded to a volunteer call for a native prairie seed-collecting event at Sand Coulee Scientific and Natural Area (SNA). “Previous seed collection is not required—all abilities and groups are welcome,” resonated with me.

Seed collecting with FMR at Sand Coulee SNA in Hastings, MN. Image courtesy of FMR Staff Photographer.

Seed collecting with FMR at Sand Coulee SNA in Hastings, MN. Image courtesy of FMR Staff Photographer.

I learned to identify several native plants and how to sustainably extract seeds for later planting. Renowned for its rare plant and animal species, Sand Coulee SNA offers a glimpse of what Minnesota looked like before 1850. Being there rekindled the memory of a poignant, historic diary entry I’d once read by a farmer in Lakeland, Minnesota.

June 24, 1854: The prairie is now a beautiful green interspersed with beautiful flowers in great abundance and variety. Some of these flowers must be preserved—not that they can ever be made any more beautiful or arranged with any better taste than now. But this great prairie flower garden as arranged by the hand of the Creator is now exposed to the plow and the lowing herds are already making their paths and selecting their shades and watering places and it is plain that the native beauty must give way to the artificial.

—  from the diary of Mitchell Jackson. (Blegen 1939)

After that, I signed up to become a River Guardian with FMR and receive action alerts for the river. What began as an online search for connection lead to me becoming part of a large volunteer community doing meaningful environmental work. It may sound hokey to some, but there was and is a certain magic in that transformation, one that continues to inspire me. I began to write about the river in my creative work, which includes poetry, and wished for a sense of community around the more creative and personal aspects of river engagement as well. Surely there were others who felt the same?

FMR was a natural place for me to inquire about partnering on a creative writing project devoted to the river, and I’m certain a seed was planted inside me that day at Sand Coulee SNA.

A Leap of Faith

At our first meeting, FMR Communication Manager Sue Rich acknowledged that it was my “pleasant persistence” that got the idea through the door. We laughed as we considered that this is how many projects likely begin, with a nudging person peddling their project, insistent on its potential merit. As we talked, my initial offering—a metro-wide poetry contest and anthology—evolved into something ongoing and beneficial to FMR’s mission. Writing judges were nixed in favor of approachability and inclusion; it would be online and we’d make it as open as we could with the resources at hand.

But would anyone submit creative writing without a prize or the prestige of rising above the competition? Both storylines—the importance of persistence and faith—were familiar and fundamental to FMR. And with that, we knew we had to move forward.

WTTR: How it Works

The Mississippi River as it flows through the Twin Cities is not one but three rivers. It enters the metro as a prairie river with banks instead of bluffs. Then, as it roars over St. Anthony Falls in downtown Minneapolis, it becomes a gorge river wending its way through the steep-sided bluffs in south Minneapolis and western St. Paul. Finally, as it joins the Minnesota River near Fort Snelling, it relaxes and widens to become a floodplain river.

Which river would people focus on for Write to the River? Its changing nature as well as the number of visiting spots could make it a challenge to face the dreaded blank page. We needed to give people a common starting point.

You could call it a form of Ekphrastic creative writing, a fancy word for writing inspired by other works of art, including paintings, photographs, or statues. Writers “interpret, inhabit, confront, and speak to their subjects.” No two perceptions will be the same; every writer will see something unique from their own experiences.

A shot of hidden falls. The water seems to be wispy, and moving very fast.

Hidden Falls showcases the varied river landscape.

WTTR contributors are not limited to writing to the image provided; it is offered as a starting point to inspire writing and showcase scenes along the river.

For each season, one image is chosen by a volunteer team of writers and river enthusiasts. The image is selected from 10 photos provided by FMR volunteer photographer Tom Reiter, based on its broad inspirational and emotive qualities to serve as a writing prompt. Reiter’s stunning photographs capture different scenes, elements, and activities along the Upper Mississippi River basin throughout the year.

It is often the feeling of being in a place that prompts a photographer to capture an image. Reiter explains, “When I click the camera’s shutter, it’s often because something I’m seeing invokes certain feelings within me. If a picture could have that effect on me, I wondered if it would produce a similar reaction in others?”

A brief caption is provided with each image, along with the location for anyone who would like to visit—we aim for just enough information to prompt participation, without overly influencing the writing direction. To get creative juices flowing, we ask readers and potential contributors a few leading questions: What feelings does the photo evoke? Does it remind you of a past experience? Can you imagine walking here? What sounds, smells and tastes might you experience?

WTTR summer 2017 submission 'Lonesome whistle' over the Mississippi River at Hastings, MN, near several FMR habitat restoration and Vermillion Stewards volunteer sites. The silhouettes of three train cars appear on a bridge crossing the river.

WTTR summer 2017 submission “Lonesome whistle” over the Mississippi River at Hastings, MN, near several FMR habitat restoration and Vermillion Stewards volunteer sites.

In addition to appearing in each “Mississippi Messages,” the image and invitation to submit a writing piece are shared on FMR’s web and social media sites and with local libraries, bookstores, and with colleagues, friends, and family. Participants are given approximately 6 weeks to reflect on the image, write their piece and send it to the project email. After the submission period closes, writing pieces are in turn featured on the FMR website, and the link to the online issue is distributed through the same channels for their readership to enjoy.

Tom, Whitney, Sue, and I have all been pleasantly surprised by the number of people who responded, sharing their personal river stories. And in keeping with the spirit of Ekphrastic writing, everyone has seen something different in the featured photo.

The writing reflects diversity of voice and ways the river is appreciated—as a meaningful constant, an important connection to the past and natural world, and source of healing, inspiration, and work. It includes the gripping tales of a retired towboat captain’s experiences on the Lois E , a heartfelt story of a busy Minneapolis nurse who finds reprieve living on a houseboat, poignant poems of Native American ancestral river links, and inspiring memoir.

Below are the photographic image and caption prompts offered during WTTR’s first year, some of the writing we received in response, and thoughts from the writers on their involvement with the project. To see all of the writing, please visit the site .

Year One: WTTR Creative Writing Sampler

Winter 2017-18 submission prompt.

The sun sets upon St. Paul, MN from the beloved Indian Mounds Park bluff top view.

The sun sets upon St. Paul, MN from the beloved  Indian Mounds Park  bluff top view.


The sun has done its best all day to turn the ice back to water but the River won’t have it.

The River knows to rest this time of year; no tugs, no barges, no kayaks. The empty trees all have the same idea.

Even the buildings have their eyes closed. Time to put this day back with all the others.

Time to gather up a few friends at a quiet table.  Get some talk flowing about what keeps you warm below the surface.

Interview with Jim Larson

LT: I learned you write poetry often. Is there something about WTTR that inspired you in a different way?

Jim : The thing that caught my fancy was the title of the whole project, “Write to the River.” It did not say, “Write about the River.” So it seemed appropriate to write about a photo, but to write to the river.

LT: Your poem gives meaningful voice to different elements within the photo. Can you share more about that?

Jim : This was an invitation to invest the river with a certain agency, maybe even a sense of character. And while we’re at it, why not do the same with the other elements in the photo—the sun, the trees, the buildings? The hope was to animate each thing and set them into some sort of relationship without getting all Walt Disney about it.

LT: How can creative writing expand awareness and appreciation of the river?

Jim : Any audience enjoys hearing stories about characters and their relationships. The poem, however briefly, attempts to provide that. The true completion of the piece is accomplished in the minds of the audience as they follow along and add personal associations from their own imaginations.

Step Outside By Christine Yaeger

Don’t lament. The tomb of concrete spreadsheets will rake your soul, but the barren tracks will be uprooted into flourishing.

Step outside. The light will cascade off of ice crystals as the flame subsides its quest, vanquished yet unconquered.

Listen. Whispering grass underneath the shadowed limbs sunken roots, deep and abiding.

Rejoice. The thaw will awaken the unseen miracles carrying messages of hope into another day.

Interview with Christine Yaeger

LT: I learned you work with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Can you tell me how you became involved in this field?

Christine : I knew I wanted to pursue a career in natural resources after taking a college course in environmental studies. I had interest in our collective dependence on natural resources, and how it brings our values into focus. Through my studies I gained a different appreciation, learning Latin names and how resources like timber are used in industry. I worked at several entities on water quality sampling, agriculture grants, and data coordination, before landing at the DNR.

LT: What can you tell me about your experience with WTTR?

Christine :  I heard about WTTR through the FMR newsletter. I appreciate the important work FMR does for water and people, and the invitation to submit a creative writing piece. I like the mission-driven nature of my work at the DNR, which involves strategic planning. WTTR offers a different opportunity, applying an artistic response to a river photograph. I was inspired by the evocative light within the image.

LT: Can projects like WTTR offer something meaningful for those doing environmental work?

Christine : WTTR is an opportunity for creative ideas to simmer and become a story or poem, and to read other river writing. Sitting alone to reflect can help to recharge from the layers and fast pace of life, as well any discouraging news, and be inspired afresh.

Fall 2017 Submission Prompt

A paddleboat passenger enjoying the Big River and St. Paul’s iconic High Bridge.

A paddleboat passenger enjoying the Big River and St. Paul’s iconic High Bridge.

Empress by Linda Moua

At any given moment I feel as though I am guest on her flowing body At this very moment She provides passage to spy on carefully hidden neighbors

At any given moment I could fall through her chilly surface and suffer an abrupt shock At this very moment She can only feel the towing of my paddles left to right

At any given moment I look up to her thicket of verdant friends to find inner peace At this very moment She has craftily coaxed me to silence as I slip into awe

At any given moment I see that I am only a small explorer in her noble domain Because at this very moment She has painted me a self- portrait of who she is and why she is mighty

Interview with Linda Moua

LT: I learned you work with FMR. What do you do for them?

Linda : I work part-time as FMR’s development and advocacy assistant, working in our database, doing administrative work, and occasionally assisting at off-site public events.

LT: Do you recall what inspired you to get involved in river work?

Linda:  I’ve always tried to be environmentally conscious but my relationship with FMR transpired because I was attracted to the people who worked there, and the dedication they were known for having toward their mission.

LT: Is there one particular challenge pertaining to your work?

Linda : As someone whose childhood time outside meant pulling weeds and watering endless rows of seeds more so than hiking and swimming, I have learned that “spending time outdoors” means different things to different people, and that experiencing fun and engaging activities outdoors should happen early on. Growing up in a large, low-income and recently immigrated household, there wasn’t a lot of environmentally related outings my family took, other than going to the farm. Eventually my neighborhood community started collaborating with outreach programs to take us kids on hiking trails, beaches, and other activities. I’m grateful for those experiences, but know it hasn’t always been easy to establish or launch cross-cultural connections. That said, I’m proud of FMR’s efforts to be mindful and inclusive in youth engagement programs, because I know how memories like those can shape one’s outlook about experiencing nature.

LT: Is there anything you would like to share about writing to the river?

Linda : I loved that I was able to combine my appreciation for the river while exercising my poetry skills! I don’t consider myself an avid partaker of water-related activities but have always enjoyed time spent leisurely walking alongside the river or learning about its different eco-systems. Also, reading the work from other contributors showed me that spending time with nature can unexpectedly inspire, humor, or heal us.

LT: Your poem is so poignant, expressing appreciation for the river. Are there any ways the writing of it spilled over into your work?

Linda: For me, writing this poem further attested to the river’s beauty and resilience and why people connect with FMR to help protect and restore it. It also strengthens my appreciation for the projects we do and the staff I get to work with.

LT: Are there any ways your work informs your creative writing?

Linda: While writing this poem I tapped into a memory of our FMR staff canoeing trip last fall. After much time spent worrying about capsizing, I finally started feeling those moments of unclouded reflection as I paddled down the river. My poem speaks to the river’s daunting yet inspiring presence because that’s what I felt that day. The emotions were easy to evoke but it took time to think through how I wanted to portray those feelings. Using techniques I’d learned in my writing courses, I decided to describe them via a poetic homage.

Spring 2017 Submission Prompt

'Morning Color' at Pine Bend Bluffs SNA in Inver Grove Heights, MN one of FMR’s most popular protection and restoration sites. The sun rises over the river, causing the sky to be painted with a variety of oranges and pinks.

“Morning Color” at Pine Bend Bluffs SNA in Inver Grove Heights, MN one of FMR’s most popular protection and restoration sites.

Untitled by Michael Daugherty

A place where my ancestors speak, but there is no one left to listen. Hush waters whisper to our souls to remind us of what we’re missing.

I want to stop and breathe in deeply and try to smell the smoke of their fires. I want to hear their songs in the creaking branches, hoping that it will inspire me to remember my blood.

O whisper to me the inspiriting beauty of life that captivated my ancestors so that they prayed and gave thanks!

Oh why can’t I see the smoke rising above the trees.

Interview with Michael Daugherty

LT: Your moving poem speaks to ancestral ties to the river. Can you share a little about yourself?

Michae l: I grew up in Quapaw, Oklahoma, where I graduated high school in 2004. Today I live in Neosho, Missouri, with my wife Amy and my son Eli. I am an enrolled member of the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma.

LT: Is there anything you’d like to share about your WTTR experience?

Michael : I like writing poetry, but don’t share it too often. I’m an introvert and with no formal education in creative writing, very self-conscious when it comes to my writing. When I first saw the photo of the sunrise over the Mississippi, I was in awe of how beautiful it was. The first image that came to mind was seeing smoke rising above the trees. I wondered if Indigenous people, especially my ancestors, had ever camped or lived in that area, or somewhere along the Mississippi River. I could see it. I wanted to smell that smoke. Unfortunately, there was no smoke and any sign of Indigenous people living there would most likely be gone. The poem came to me pretty easy, though it took me a day and a half of reading the poem over and over again before I finally submitted it. I’m glad I did. I was very excited to see it on the website. I’m very proud of it and extremely thankful for the opportunity.

LT: Is there a river photographic image you can suggest for our project?

Michael : I can’t think of an image, but hope this project continues. The stories people share about those places have their own vision, knowledge, and love for the water and land that can open our eyes to a different way of how we look at the earth. I think it’s good to share with each other our love for the earth. There is a deeper understanding to be gained from each other. The poetry and prose I’ve read on the website are amazing and touching.

LT: Can you share anything that speaks to the power of story?

Michael: I believe storytelling is an important part of any culture. Stories can open minds, inspire, and heal. A single story can plant love inside the hearts of children for a world that can seem scary. A story can teach and inspire people to care for the earth and for each other. Stories tell us who we are, who we were, where we come from, and where we can go. When it comes to our future, our children, nothing is more important than an inspiring story to help open their minds to alternate paths in life, rather than a single path that society demands they take. Our lands, our air, our water—they don’t survive unless we can tell a child a story that teaches them the importance of those sacred elements. Stories have to live on in our children to pass on to our grandchildren. That’s how we change the world.

The River Story Map

In Spring 2017, I was profoundly moved by one Write to the River submission in particular, a letter to the river from Michael Bischoff. In it, Michael thanks the river for the healing role it continues to play in his life with terminal brain cancer.

Dear Mississippi River,

You are family to me, so you probably know my story already, but I’m writing to express my love and gratitude for you and all those who have cared for you, and loved you, as I do.

I found out a year and a half ago that I have an aggressive kind of brain cancer. We tried chemo, but it didn’t work. The cancer grew while I was taking the chemo. We tried a new experimental treatment, but yesterday my doctor told me that treatment was ending because it hadn’t produced enough results. So, I’ve turned to you, dear river, as my primary healer. A year ago, I made a commitment to myself and you, that I would come slowly walk and sit by your banks every day. I committed to receiving the healing, wisdom, and grace you wanted to offer. You’ve been my most faithful and generous healer. I trust you, and I will be faithful to you.

This week you guided the great blue herons to an island in the middle of your waters, close to my house. I sit at your edge and watch the herons flirt and fight in their nests, above your patient waters. My wingspan is the same as the herons. As they stretch their wings, I hold out my arms, gliding with them over your waters. I want to share their intimacy with you, flying so close to you, getting to know your length.

You’ve been so generous with me, nourishing me, washing away cancer and anxiety. If I believed medical statistics guided my body, my life would be over tomorrow. But I know that your water fills and guides my body more than medical statistics. I know that I am a small part of your watershed, and that after my body stops breathing, I will still be a part of your wholeness.

Today, and every day, I will sit at your side, watching the ice melt into your wholeness, hearing the woodpeckers knock pieces of the trees down closer to you. As my body declines, may I also fall into your wholeness, resting in the grace you carry across this continent that we call home.

— Michael Bischoff

Michael Bischoff reflects near the river’s edge.

Michael Bischoff reflects near the river’s edge.

Not long after, Michael and I were sitting at a table discussing his idea for another new project: The River Story Map. While it can occasionally overlap with WTTR, the River Story Map aims to capture and share personal river stories tied to the specific place along the river connected to their experience.

The River Story Map launched in January 2018, featuring 25-plus stories of connection to the river in honor of FMR’s silver year. These honest and personal reflections portray the river as a source of intrigue and adventure, a beloved date night venue, and even an unlikely partner in tales of loss and healing.

As the map continues to grow, we expect word about it to circulate more as well. Michael asked me to be sure to let Open Rivers readers know that we welcome everyone to add an image and story about a place along the river that is meaningful to them.

The Power of Sharing Creative Writing

I often think of WTTR unfolding as dendritic branches from Tom Reiter’s lens, to the writer’s creation, to the reader’s mind. Like seed collecting in a prairie, a sense of community develops around contributing to something meaningful while sharing river interpretations.

“The Mississippi River is an incredibly valuable natural asset,” says photographer Reiter. “Those who take the time to explore its wonder are richly rewarded with its beauty, history and power. It’s those feelings that people enjoy sharing with others and WTTR provides the forum.”

While the River Story Map has afforded greater opportunity to connect to the river locally, WTTR has found itself expanding across state and even international lines. Writer Barbara DeCoursey Roy lives in St. Louis, but assists with WTTR photo selection. She also contributed a thought-provoking submission to the winter 2017 prompt about the river’s power as a connective force during divisive times:

Great River By Barbara DeCoursey Roy

The river doesn’t see color or division. Red or blue states merely states of being—sundown trending garnet,

but turning midnight blue just before dawn cleanses muddy water, washing away the sins of the fathers.

One indivisible.  Holy water, the Black Robe rode; bloody water, Grant’s ironclads trolled. Hosting both beaver and trapper.

Oasis for Red on their trail of tears; a Red Sea for Blacks hankering for the warmth of other suns.

Strife-roiled, yet rolling.  On.  Unconstrained by armies of the dead.   Breaking boundaries imposed by paltry dreams, feeding underground

streams, breaching the banks of imagination. A mighty chorus of voices singing “Mni Wiconi.” Water is Life.  Colorless, fluid, never tame.

DeCoursey Roy shared the edition in which her poem was featured on Facebook and a dozen of her international poet friends posted congratulations or shared the link. “Great poems, like the river, serve as containers to hold the tension of opposites. I believe in the power of writing to forge connections among diverse groups of people. I believe the love of our country’s great natural resources has the same power, if we harness it,” says DeCoursey Roy.

WTTR Spring 2018 image. Our Twin Cities river corridor is part of an internationally significant flyway that provides vital resting places and food for both resident and migrating birds.

WTTR Spring 2018 image. Our Twin Cities river corridor is part of an internationally significant flyway that provides vital resting places and food for both resident and migrating birds.

Impact: Our Collective Affinity

So far, roughly 3,300 people have visited Write to the River online , most spend a long time on the page, with roughly two-thirds of them returning. And while we don’t request demographic information, we can say there has been a diverse mix of backgrounds, including some identifying as Native American and some as Hmong. Experience levels on the river vary from people frightened of being on the water to seasoned river pilots.

But how do you quantify the impact of a poem or a creative writing project? Numbers can be illusory or, when they are available, misleading. Webpage hits can’t capture poems shared on social media or printed and hung in an office cubicle. And while we can point to a rise in the number of WTTR readers, as well as River Guardians and members, this is little more than correlation. We know that some WTTR participants (even ones who submit works that could be considered politically charged) prefer to remain solely connected to the creative writing side of things. But we also know that many advocates and environmentalists delight in the opportunity to reconnect to the passion that underlies their work.

“WTTR is a reminder of the heart connection many of us have as river advocates, but don’t always get the chance to express while working in policy or natural resource science,” says FMR director Clark. “It’s all important; the work of volunteers, organizations, elected officials, scientists, etc., and based on a shared underlying foundation. WTTR is an opportunity to tap into that deeper foundation of place and create a confluence of ideas. ”

  As we see both WTTR and the River Story Map circulated among not only traditional writing circles but fellow water organizations, watershed districts, and other agencies, and as the writing continues to flow in, we are honored to provide a forum to strengthen our connection to the river, to refuel, and recharge. We also can’t help but wonder if we created a niche no one knew needed to be filled.

River ‘concrete’ poem by Christine Bronk from Fall 2017 Write to the River. Different words of the poem appear in different colors and are meant to represent rocks, boats, and the flowing water.

River ‘concrete’ poem by Christine Bronk from Fall 2017 Write to the River.

As part of the celebration of FMR’s 25 th anniversary, a special exhibit of Write to the River took place July 3-29 at the Wabasha Brewing Company near the river in St. Paul. Visitors stopped by for a pint, a photo, and a poem or story to honor FMR’s 25 years of protecting, restoring and enhancing the river.

For questions about Write to the River project, contact Leslie Thomas at [email protected] . To learn more about FMR, Write to the River, and the River Story Map, link to: https://fmr.org ,  https://fmr.org/write-to-the-river , and  https://fmr.org/river-stories-map .

All images courtesy of Tom Reiter, unless otherwise stated. Special thanks to FMR Communications Manager Sue Rich, who contributed to this article.

Blegen, T. C. 1939. Minnesota Farmers Diaries. St. Paul: The Minnesota Historical Society .

Chavis, Geri Giebel. 2011. Poetry and Story Therapy: The Healing Power of Creative Expression. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Recommended Citation

Thomas, Leslie. 2018. “Writing the River.”  Open Rivers: Rethinking Water, Place & Community,  no. 11.  https://openrivers.lib.umn.edu/article/writing-the-river/ .

DOI:  https://doi.org/10.24926/2471190X.4672

Download PDF of Writing the River by Leslie Thomas.

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below the ground and expect sanctuary in the heat another town                                                  cracking open

~ Eunice Andrada from 'sanctuary'

Is it here we go, when water takes its leave, seeping unseen to the deepest place. ~ Georgina Reid from ' There is Nothing Heavier Than a River '

From cloud forests to flood, water connects us in every sense.

Red Room Poetry’s Writing Water: Rain, River, Reef project commissioned celebrated poets and invited public submissions to peer below the surface and reimagine our essential relationships with water. From the slow-moving waters of TarraWarra in Victoria to the extinction of corals and conversations with wetlands in Western Australia, the collected poems are provocations to honour, remember and interrogate our responsibilities with water in a time of environmental change.  Our four commissioned poets include Tony Birch , Eunice Andrada , Luke Davies and Georgina Reid .

Writing Water chapbook Rain, rivers and reefs to tidal pools and coastal shelves, the  Writing Water  chapbook is a bespoke collection of 24 poems, written by commissioned and public poets about their relationship with our earth's most precious resource, water.

Produced with sustainability and community at its heart,  Writing Water  was created with the Rizzeria  using natural dyes and a handprinted Risograph stencil process, giving it a lovely hand-crafted texture that may remain on your fingertips.

We hope that each poem serves as a reminder of how water should be held in the hand, gently and with gratitude.


Brooke Scobie


Jane Gibian

Duay Quang Mai

Duy Quang Mai


Nicole Smede


Sara Morgillo


Eunice Andrada

Past events, online poetry workshop with eunice andrada, poems float on sydney ferries, partners and supporters.

Writing Water: Rain, River, Reef is supported by generous individuals, TarraWarra Museum of Art for the  TarraWarra Biennial 2020 and our major partners.

Australia Council for the Arts

Copyright agency cultural fund, city of sydney, the rizzeria, 107 projects, billy blue creative.

How to Write a Real Love Poem (Without Clichés or Bad Rhymes)

deborah landau

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It’s the time of year when my students write love poems. This arrival always surprises me—as spring’s green shocks after months of winter gray—but it shouldn’t. It’s as predictable as the city’s daffodils pushing through the trash to shiver in the wind.

Forget the saccharine of greeting cards and the singsong of Roses are red, violets are blue . Love poems can be moving, beautiful, romantic. Yes, they can express affection for a beloved person, but the poems we need most have skin in the game, and something more profound at stake.

It felt easier to write poems about longing and desire as a young woman, but as the years have passed, I’ve found that, just as sustaining a relationship isn’t always easy, writing love poems about a long marriage can be a challenge. How do you see the person you’ve lived with for decades as if for the first time? How do you make the 10,000th kiss romantic and new?

As much as we may want—or need—to write a love poem, it’s often difficult to find a language that adequately expresses the way we feel. For one thing, it’s hard to strike the right tone. When a poem is flooded with too much emotion, it becomes sentimental, even cheesy; but when a poem risks nothing, it leaves a reader cold.

The best love poems enact the hyperaware state of being alive we feel when we’re in love. Everything is suddenly technicolor: “There are days we live/as if death were nowhere/in the background; from joy/to joy to joy, /from wing to wing,/from blossom to blossom to/impossible blossom” Li-Young Lee writes , capturing love’s fleeting jubilance.

Rita Dove’s “Flirtation” works a similar magic, reminding us that “My heart/is humming a tune/I haven’t heard in years!” The poem encourages us not to miss the world’s deliciousness: “Quiet’s cool flesh—/let’s sniff and eat it./There are ways/to make of the moment/a topiary/so the pleasure’s in/walking through.”

The most powerful love poems, I think, address the fact that we are here now and one day won’t be. Keats’s “ Ode on Melancholy ” is an exquisite example. Keats knew immense suffering in his day—he lived through his generation’s pandemic and lost his mother and his brother to tuberculosis before succumbing himself at 25. Yet he admonishes the reader not to retreat from life but rather, “when the melancholy fit shall fall…then glut thy sorrow on a morning rose.” His advice? Move through the world embracing its pleasures, hearts open, despite knowing full well we will lose our beloveds, will indeed lose everything, on this whole spinning beautiful earth.

Love poems help us celebrate the gift of being alive even—perhaps especially—during challenging times. The past few years may have left us bruised—but are we done with life? I am still so into it. The buzz of meeting a friend for a drink now that we can once again meet friends for drinks, the student who wants to come by my (in-person!) office hours to “hang out and read poems,” my husband beside me as he sleeps. As I type, he is still here on earth breathing. And I am. “One day, I know, it will be otherwise,” notes the poet Jane Kenyon . But for now.

One afternoon, just when the city seemed to be emerging from the first crush of the pandemic, I was cutting through Central Park after an appointment. The meadow was mostly empty—folks still working from home, tourists hadn’t come back—but giant speakers streamed Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind,” that iconic love poem to New York City. The few of us out walking that morning were in luck—we could dance a little, maybe, or at least step with a bounce; no one’s looking. Life rebounding in New York City, the full force of it, joy! “People do know they’re alive,” says Alex Dimitrov in Love and Other Poems . The best love poems offer respite and revivify; they remind me that I, too, love being alive.

Soon the lilacs will bloom, but so briefly. Even more reason to seek them out and breathe in deep. And this is what I most want out of love poems: I want to embrace the powerful life force that surges up again and again despite the years passing, despite the heartache and disappointments, the losses and griefs, despite it all.

Ecstasies By Deborah Landau

In the xyzs of nights and days we stayed as if the conversation would go on forever, you, you, you—ample days of you, your beard accumulating a bit of snow, the gradual showing of bone, a grizzled diminishment. The stacked-up winters, each in its place. In this manner the years. Spooled out the other side as if in plain view— a field without you. Meanwhile we took good care, the greens were organic, honey sweetened the pot, the membrane between us stayed transparent and we took seriously our allegiance to dream. Flesh By Deborah Landau It must give pleasure but rarely it rarely does. But pleasure is so useful when it comes. Pleasure says this is your sort of place, your year, you live here. Pleasure’s the perfect swerve. It wins you back. Pain won’t take you nowhere. Chocolate on the tongue. Vodka. Velvet. Voila. A zipper slinking in its silver, its long slide down.

Deborah Landau is the author of five collections of poetry, most recently Skeletons (April 2023). Her other books include Soft Targets , The Uses of the Body , The Last Usable Hour , and Orchidelirium , which was selected by Naomi Shihab Nye for the Robert Dana Anhinga Prize for Poetry. In 2016, she was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and The New York Times, among others. She is a professor at NYU, where she directs the creative writing program.


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Upper Michigan Today celebrates Valentine’s Day with a love poetry writing workshop, self-love conversation

Upper michigan today wednesday, february 14..

JoAnne Garrow and Beverly Matherne join Tia Trudgeon and MK DiVirgilio on Upper Michigan Today.

MARQUETTE, Mich. (WLUC) - Love is in the air today!

Upper Michigan Today celebrated Valentine’s Day on Wednesday’s episode with the help of Poets Marty Achatz and Beverly Matherne and Therapist JoAnne Garrow of Caught Dreamin’ Therapy.

Achatz and Matherne guide you through a simple love poetry writing workshop before Garrow highlights the importance of practicing self-love.

But first, MK DiVirgilio joins Tia Trudgeon as co-host to share stories of the day.

Now, back to Valentine’s Day!

Forbes estimates that Americans will spend a collective $25.8 billion on gifts this Valentine’s Day, with chocolates, flowers, and jewelry being the most purchased gift items.

If you’re looking to give a more personal or free gift this Valentine’s Day, consider writing your loved one a poem!

A poem doesn’t have to be long or complex to be successful.

Matherne shares a love poem from her book, “Love Potions, Teas, Incantations” before diving into the writing exercise.

Achatz says you don’t have to have a particular way with words to write a successful love poem.

Just follow a list format like in this exercise here!

Garrow joins the conversation and explains that self-love and self-care practices are the foundation for all healthy relationships and adds that self-love looks different for everybody, but starts with internal reflection.

Garrow says once you have a better understanding of what’s important to you, what gives you energy, and what depletes it, you can start including small self-love practices into your daily routine.

If you’re struggling with self-love and self-acceptance, don’t hesitate to reach out to a professional.

Garrow says her practice has grown steadily and she sees clients for a variety of reasons, from those looking to heal from major trauma to those looking to improve interpersonal relationships.

You can learn more about Garrow, her team at Caught Dreamin’, and their services at caughtdreamintherapy.com .

You can watch Upper Michigan Today on weekdays at 9:00 a.m on FOX UP or stream the show on your smart device with the TV6+ app.

Copyright 2024 WLUC. All rights reserved.

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Worcester's youth poet laureate crafts love poem with community's words.

We issued the high schooler a special Valentine's Day challenge

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Worcester's Youth Poet Laureate has composed a special love poem for her community this Valentine's Day.

Serenity Jackson, a freshman at Worcester Technical High School majoring in Allied Health, says she's been rapping since she was just five years old.

Going by the name Lil Rennie, she's performed on stages for her community many times, starting in pageants as a youngster.

But now Jackson has a new title: Youth Poet Laureate for the city of Worcester.

"I was doing English unit and we were doing poetry, and I discovered I was really good at writing poems," Jackson said. "So then I was like, I want to do this!"

Jackson said writing poetry gives her creative freedom and an opportunity to live through teenage experiences she's still navigating.

"I'm still learning about my emotions, and I still don't know everything about it," she said. "But it helps me understand it more. Then I can share it with my mom and she helps me learn as well."

Jackson, whose parents are both nurses, said she also wants to be a nurse or a pediatrician. But says rapping, writing and artistry will remain a part of her life. She hopes her poetry and her songs offer a window into her emotions that others can tap into.

"Mostly, I want them to feel that they're not alone," she said.

This Valentine's Day, we asked Jackson to compose a special poem for her community with help from her community.

We went to Worcester to ask people there, "What is love?"

Jackson took those words to craft an original piece for her hometown.

Video below: Watch Jackson recite the poem with your words

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What is the poem I’d like to write with my community? 

I’ve been writing it since 1992, on the page and within enduring relationships forged as a volunteer member of the Anansi Writers Workshop at The World Stage in Leimert Park, Los Angeles. Within the walls of the stage, during years of Wednesday night workshops, poetry has schooled me, hounded me, and sometimes tortured me so badly, I found that it was wisest to head to the woodshed to study and consolidate lessons before venturing back to the page. 

Collaborations at The World Stage crystallized my allegiance to becoming a medium, a lightning rod, and an interpreter of my best ethical and esthetic impulses. It crystallized my embrace of a roiling set of creative motivations and my virtuosity within a rigorous critical community whose members celebrate their quest to write multidimensional poems that sing with artistic power, personal subtlety, and depth of meaning. This broader sense of community membership was ignited by my first published poem in 1978—a rant against police brutality in The Black Scholar .  But then, on Wednesday, August 30, 2023, in an unexpected and dynamic circle of reciprocity,  the Anansi Writers Workshop was canceled so that members(many of whom were children  when I enrolled in the workshop) could attend the launch event for the second year of laureate programming at Altadena Library, where I gave my final reading in L.A. before relocating to Florida to recover from a medical emergency. 

At least thirty members of the workshop pushed the attendance to more than one hundred folks that evening. We wrote a living poem. We laughed. We cried. It was church. It was ceremony. It was humbling. I was grateful. I was awestruck.  It was uplifting, as only a reading at The World Stage can be, featuring anonymous community members, visiting OGs like Naomi Long Madgett and Pulitzer Prize winners, such as Yusef Komunyakaa , among scores of other honorary members of the congregation.  

Only a month before that August launch event, I was visiting my own version of Jordan Peele’s  “Sunken Place”—sedated and intubated for three days, only to awaken to weeks of rehab (which is still ongoing). Revivified, I stood before and within my community: a mortal, a student, a poet, frail but embodying my generation of study in a community ‘storefront with a halo,’ which is  what I’ve dubbed The World Stage for years. 

It’s too early to know if I can expect to write poems as a resuscitated man, if not a resurrected  man. Time will tell. For now, the truest poetry, the poetry I’m most grateful for, the poetry that rings like Bobby Hutcherson’s vibraphone, that can well up like a superbloom of wildflowers from my beloved  California sojourn, will be the poem that I inhaled with my Anansi music makers who helped  illuminate my Grooved Pavement Ahead out of the Sunken Place. 

After the loving compression of that two-hour program, any poems I write will be more like a GoGo of passion cell division carnivale implosions tumbao of an ecstatic life 

I will forever imagine  

gleaming Black hands cupping sunrise  trembling through the parting hours  drawn to combustion between my dance with ideas & imagination  electrified by downstroke from all directions  feeding me gravity of dancers orbiting invisible meaning 

My choir of Anansi folk will feel like  blindfolded Monarch butterflies  fluttering against midnight  wing-to-wing in a sliver of sight through closed eyes  dropped & draped over my cooing   wings droning with a choir’s amen to life  annealing from the forge of relentless recombination 

One night in Altadena  we were a riot of becoming in the vows of loved ones  circles fused hands raised in guarantee to humbly protect this stirring 

our poem read … 

We give you permission We show who you need to be We your people

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A band of clouds stretches from Hawaii to California and Oregon.

What is an atmospheric river? With flooding and mudslides in California, a hydrologist explains the good and bad of these storms and how they’re changing

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Hydrologist, Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes, University of California, San Diego

Disclosure statement

Qian Cao does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

University of California, San Diego provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.

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Millions of Californians were under flood alerts as a powerful atmospheric river brought heavy rain to the West Coast in early February 2024. Los Angeles saw one of its wettest days on record with over 4 inches of rain on Feb. 4. Other communities were hit by more than 12 inches of rain and reported widespread flooding . Debris and mudslides shut down sections of highways and roads into Malibu .

It was the latest in a series of atmospheric rivers to bring extreme rainfall to the West Coast. While these storms are dreaded for the damage they can cause, they are also essential to the region’s water supply, particularly in California, as Qian Cao , a hydrologist at the University of California, San Diego, explains.

What are atmospheric rivers?

An atmospheric river is a narrow corridor or filament of concentrated water vapor transported in the atmosphere. It’s like a river in the sky that can be 1,000 miles long . On average, atmospheric rivers have about twice the regular flow of the Amazon River .

When atmospheric rivers run up against mountains or run into local atmospheric dynamics and are forced to ascend, the moisture they carry cools and condenses, so they can produce intense rainfall or snowfall.

Atmospheric rivers occur all over the world, most commonly in the mid-latitudes. They form when large-scale weather patterns align to create narrow channels, or filaments, of intense moisture transport. These start over warm water, typically tropical oceans, and are guided toward the coast by low-level jet streams ahead of cold fronts of extratropical cyclones.

Along the U.S. West Coast, the Pacific Ocean serves as the reservoir of moisture for the storm, and the mountain ranges act as barriers, which is why the western sides of the coastal ranges and Sierra Nevada see so much rain and snow.

Why are back-to-back atmospheric rivers a high flood risk?

Consecutive atmospheric rivers, known as AR families, can cause significant flooding .

The first heavy downpours saturate the ground. As consecutive storms arrive , their precipitation falls on soil that can’t absorb more water. That contributes to more runoff. Rivers and streams fill up. In the meantime, there may be snowmelt due to warm temperatures, further adding to the runoff and flood risk.

California experienced a historic run of nine consecutive atmospheric rivers in the span of three weeks in December 2022 and January 2023. The storms helped bring most reservoirs back to historical averages in 2023 after several drought years, but they also produced damaging floods and debris flows .

The cause of AR families is an active area of research. Compared with single atmospheric river events, AR families tend to be associated with lower atmospheric pressure heights across the North Pacific, higher pressure heights over the subtropics, a stronger and more zonally elongated jet stream and warmer tropical air temperatures.

Large-scale weather patterns and climate phenomena such as the Madden-Julian Oscillation , or MJO, also play an important role in the generation of AR families. An active MJO shift occurred during the early 2023 events, tilting the odds toward increased atmospheric river activity over California.

A truck drives through muddy streets that fill a large section of town. People stand on one small patch of pavement not flooded.

A recent study by scientists at Stanford and the University of Florida found that storms within AR families cause three to four times more economic damage when the storms arrive back to back than they would have caused by themselves.

How important are atmospheric rivers to the West Coast’s water supply?

I’m a research hydrologist, so I focus on hydrological impacts of atmospheric rivers. Although they can lead to flood hazards, atmospheric rivers are also essential to the Western water supply. Atmospheric rivers have been responsible for ending more than a third of the region’s major droughts, including the severe California drought of 2012-16.

Atmospheric rivers provide an average of 30% to 50% of the West Coast’s annual precipitation .

They also contribute to the snowpack, which provides a significant portion of California’s year-round water supply.

In an average year, one to two extreme atmospheric rivers with snow will be the dominant contributors to the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada. Together, atmospheric rivers will contribute about 30% to 40% of an average season’s total snow accumulation there.

A dam spillway with a full reservoir behind it.

That’s why my colleagues at the Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, part of the University of California, San Diego, work on improving atmospheric river forecasts and predictions . Water managers need to be able to regulate reservoirs and figure out how much water they can save for the dry season while still leaving room in the reservoirs to manage flood risk from future storms.

How is global warming affecting atmospheric rivers?

Warmer air can hold more moisture . As global temperatures rise in the future, we can expect more intense atmospheric rivers, leading to an increase in heavy and extreme precipitation events .

My research also shows that more atmospheric rivers are likely to occur concurrently during already wet conditions . So, the chance of extreme flooding also increases. Another study, by scientists from the University of Washington, suggests that there will be a seasonal shift to more atmospheric rivers earlier in the rainy season.

There will likely also be more year-to-year variability in the total annual precipitation, particularly in California, as a study by my colleagues at the Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes projects.

This article was update Feb. 5, 2024, with flooding and mudslides in California.

  • Climate change
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  • Atmospheric rivers

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    As much as we may want—or need—to write a love poem, it's often difficult to find a language that adequately expresses the way we feel. For one thing, it's hard to strike the right tone. When a poem is flooded with too much emotion, it becomes sentimental, even cheesy; but when a poem risks nothing, it leaves a reader cold.

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