I said yesterday that we find the voice of the River God progressively alarming. His voice provokes unease as he tries to pretend to be innocent if not benevolent. ‘I bless their swimming.’ Do we believe this utterance? Any confidence we had in his kindness is immediately challenged by his throwaway comment which follows: ‘And I like people to bathe in me, especially women.‘ We start to suspect something more salacious, even sordid about the speaker’s intentions. He cannot resist disclosing his sexual interests even when he has tried to deny them just before. Maybe this is a game for the speaker and he enjoys toying with his appalled listeners?
His voice then becomes erratic as his studied self control gives way to further alarming disclosures. We are most likely in the company of a madman? OR IF THIS IS AN ALLEGORY OF NATURE’S DANGER THEN IT SHOWS HOW RAPIDLY the apparent safety of nature can be compromised? He ‘can drown the fools.‘ Where is care now? Where is compassion? It is like being in the company of a mentally unstable character whose moods are whimsical and unpredictable. He attaches blame to their lack of respect for ‘rules’ as if he is a saftey advertisement for the water-board!
The rhyming couplet, ‘drowning’ with ‘clowning’ shows his pleasure in inflicting suffering. How can ‘drowning’ be a form of ‘clowning’? Death is not a joke and drowning is a violent death too. The speaker enjoys inflicting pain and is therefore a sadist. The poem is surreal as everything seems slightly out of focus and inappropriate and serves to contaminate the narrative. His ‘confession’ shows no remorse or compassion. And he is warming up in the poem for his most important disclosure and confession! More from Stevie Smith tomorrow for part Three. Other AQA Poems on this blog of course. Just look them up!
See More Tomorrow.
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 write a good essay!
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