Week 33: Rising Damp, by U.A.Fanthorpe

Rising Damp

At our feet they lie low,
The little fervent underground
Rivers of London

Effra, Graveney, Falcon, Quaggy,
Wandle, Walbrook, Tyburn, Fleet

Whose names are disfigured,
Frayed, effaced.

These are the Magogs that chewed the clay
To the basin that London nestles in.
These are the currents that chiselled the city,
That washed the clothes and turned the mills,
Where children drank and salmon swam
And wells were holy.

They have gone under.
Boxed, like the magician’s assistant.
Buried alive in earth.
Forgotten, like the dead.

They return spectrally after heavy rain,
Confounding suburban gardens. They infiltrate
Chronic bronchitis statistics. A silken
Slur haunts dwellings by shrouded
Watercourses, and is taken
For the footing of the dead.

Being of our world, they will return
(Westbourne, caged at Sloane Square,
Will jack from his box),
Will deluge cellars, detonate manholes,
Plant effluent on our faces,
Sink the city.

Effra, Graveney, Falcon, Quaggy,
Wandle, Walbrook, Tyburn, Fleet

It is the other rivers that lie
Lower, that touch us only in dreams
That never surface. We feel their tug
As a dowser’s rod bends to the source below

Phlegethon, Acheron, Lethe, Styx.

U.A. Fanthorpe

Ursula Fanthorpe once said that using rhyme and strict form in poetry was like writing in corsets, to which I say fine, so long as the lack of corsets doesn’t result in flab everywhere. Well, no flab on this one: a brilliant idea for a poem brilliantly executed.


3 thoughts on “Week 33: Rising Damp, by U.A.Fanthorpe

  1. From wikipedia: “The five rivers of the realm of Hades, and their symbolic meanings, are Acheron (the river of sorrow, or woe), Cocytus (lamentation), Phlegethon (fire), Lethe (oblivion), and Styx (hate) …”.

  2. I enjoy the almost military assault on London in verse 7 (“detonate manholes”, etc). “the dead” ends verses 5 and 6. The buried (real = “Being of our world”) rivers are in imagination a link between the living and the dead, so the jump to the Hades rivers at the end of the poem seems (on 2nd or 3rd reading?) natural?

  3. Pingback: The Ravensbourne – The Ill-Informed Ramblings of a Cripple

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