This should prove my final analysis of the poem as the GCSE beckons this week. Giving voice through the dramatic monologue to a rather sinister, ‘seedy’,sexually predatory male ‘river god’ makes the reader feel they are listening to an unrepentant killer. His voice is arch, playful even flirtatious. And this tone is completely inappropriate in terms of his pseudo-confession. I say ‘pseudo’ as he enjoys the talking about his victims as it gives him the chance to reanimate and therefore enjoy Again the victimisation of his prey.Killers may enjoy boasting about their ‘victories’, their ‘business’. The conversational, petulant, spoilt voice communicates mental imbalance and seems erratic. The rhymes are surprising and cloying as they seem to be from a different type of poem and that is presumably the point. The speaker has no idea about ‘normal’ behaviour and indeed enjoys misleading his readers.It is all about power and sexual gratification!
The River God(and who gave him this title- perhaps it is a boastful nom de plume he has adopted?) resembles Browning’s megalomaniac Duke in his poem, My Last Duchess,
( also in the AQA Anthology) in the way that the process of speaking leads to an admission of murder or even multiple murder, without a shred of conscience or repentance. So speaking is related to power and power specifically over women. History is littered with killers who have imprisoned women and murdered them in secret. Perhaps Stevie Smith’s River God is a member of that disturbing and disturbed coterie?
Stevie Smith has her River God frame the event of his confession around the conventions of a fairy tale, so that innocence seems to be paired up with sinfulness from the opening. ‘once there was a lady who was too bold…’ The use of the word ‘lady’ suggests respect. This is ironic and reminds me of those men who use such a title deliberately to throw their ‘victims’ off guard.
The clarity of his remembrance of WHERE she bathed is significant. It is rather grim to the eye, visually reminiscent of the Gothic even? ’Bathed in me’ has euphemistic, sexually suggestive possible meanings and the fact he is telling this unfortunate even again so lingeringly and with blame attached to the dead woman, again alerts the reader to his lascivious cruelty.
The gentle rhymes of ‘here’ and ‘dear’ are falsely gentle in the soft way they communicate violent death. The ‘lady’ did not wish to join with this speaker in any contrived ’bed’ at the bottom of the river. His voice however seems to suggest she is acquiescent. She is somehow a party to her death, agreeing to this new way of life(death) at the bottom of this ‘smelly’ ‘old’ river!
The ostensibly pitiful, sorrowful question enforced by the rhyme ‘stay’ and ‘away’ again tries to mislead the reader. It seems to suggest that the poor old river god is suffering fears of rejection from a rather flighty partner. This reframing of the truth again suggests mental or psychological disturbance on the part of the speaker. Browning is also an expert in exploring these types of speakers and their territory. See a poem like Porphyria’s Lover where the speaker is literally delivering up the poem over the girl he has just murdered.
The disturbing voice continues in a slightly ‘askew’ manner, appearing to innocently observe that she is ‘sleeping’ on the ‘beautiful deep river bed’ like some fairytale creature, tenderly cared for yet chillingly held by ‘reeds’ and ‘weeds’. She is captured, and trapped, reminding me again of another poem in the anthology, this time the Charlotte Mew poem called ‘The Farmer’s Bride‘ where a young girl is again held captive by a male figure who coldly claims to be her loving husband.
Here the river god promises to ‘wash away the ‘fear she looks at me with’ . This is chilling as he can’t help but tell the truth even though he is promising to heal/assuage the ‘fear’. He is the CAUSE of the fear! So again, the poem could be applied to human predators who delight in terrifying their victims. Thus the speaker is sadistic if not psychopathic! I also find the actual image repulsive as it reminds us of the damage done to human bodies by water. The face will be washed away by the river, so her identity, her beauty is destroyed and no one is looking for her anymore either. This last claim shows how he has isolated this poor owman. She has become lost/abjected from her world and forgotten. Subsequently she must be HIS ONLY. He wants to possess her in EVERY WAY!
The last line confirms our fears that we are listening to a mad man! He is not saying if she goes, he is saying if she ‘wishes to go’. Think how cruel and perverse this is. Even the merest hint of discontent with this killer will be punished. He expects her to love her torturer, her captor. Again, I cannot help but think Stevie Smith is using what appears to be a mythic tale, a fairy tale allegory perhaps, to explore the mind of a human psychopath. What we wonder is signified by not being forgiven by this sadistic speaker? What tortures and games?
We shudder to think!
I may be smelly, and I may be old,
Rough in my pebbles, reedy in my pools,
But where my fish float by I bless their swimming
And I like the people to bathe in me, especially women.
But I can drown the fools
Who bathe too close to the weir, contrary to rules.
And they take their time drowning
As I throw them up now and then in a spirit of clowning.
Hi yih, yippity-yap, merrily I flow,
O I may be an old foul river but I have plenty of go.
Once there was a lady who was too bold
She bathed in me by the tall black cliff where the water runs cold,
So I brought her down here
To be my beautiful dear.
Oh will she stay with me will she stay
This beautiful lady, or will she go away?
She lies in my beautiful deep river bed with many a weed
To hold her, and many a waving reed.
Oh who would guess what a beautiful white face lies there
Waiting for me to smooth and wash away the fear
She looks at me with. Hi yih, do not let her
Go. There is no one on earth who does not forget her
Now. They say I am a foolish old smelly river
But they do not know of my wide original bed
Where the lady waits, with her golden sleepy head.
If she wishes to go I will not forgive her.
How to analyse a text quickly!
Bookshelf 2.0 developed by revood.com