Sunday, 1 July 2012

Old Father Thames

Walking the Thames path last week from Oxford to its source,  I wrote the first two lines of a poem which will probably be called 'The Source':

My guide book thinks this river is a person or a nation
born near Cirencester gently

and it's true that the guide book talks about the 'gentle birth' of the Thames and then its passage through the carefree meadows of its youth towards the 'proud symbols' of its maturity - castles and colleges and palaces. It doesn't, being a tourist publication, talk about decrepitude and senility, and it doesn't mention authors like Dickens and especially T.S.Eliot who deal with the river in that state (unlike eg Jerome K Jerome and Kipling who do get mentioned). There's a nationalist subtext in the guidebook's imagery and my poem will mingle registers and mix metaphors in order to explore the status of the Thames as a symbol of Englishness, where national identity is represented both as river and person - or it'll attempt that, though sometimes the language will refuse to bend that way.