Monday, February 1, 2010

On rivers #1

Murray. Lachlan. Goulburn. Darling. Murrumbidgee. Margaret. Yarra. Katherine. Clarence. Namoi. Fitzroy.
Rivers have always been the lifeblood of Australia. I'm thinking a lot about rivers because there's one - long and large and settling and streaming - feeding my story.
I have a very vivid memory of swimming in a river in, appropriately, the Riverina as a nine-year-old kid. Splashing around among the rocks mid-stream I nearly crapped myself when a great Australian venomous snake shot like a spitting, writhing whirlpool right past me. It slashed on through the mud and grass towards our camp and moments later was deftly beheaded by my uncle's shovel. 
I was too young to know anything of the symbolism of rivers in literature, the progression of life, the passage of time etc etc. But I still get goosebumps recalling the terror of that moment. I am not a fan of snakes.
So, in homage to rivers in writing, and in celebration of the African American poet Langston Hughes, born on this day in 1902, his signature poem:


The Negro Speaks of Rivers
I've known rivers:
I've known rivers ancient as the world and older than the
flow of human blood in human veins.
My soul has grown deep like the rivers.
I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I danced in the Nile when I was old
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln
went down to New Orleans, and I've seen its muddy
bosom turn all golden in the sunset.
I've known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.
My soul has grown deep like the rivers.


What do you think of when you think of a river?

3 comments:

Jan said...

I think of life, of riverstones and the beauty of creation.  When I (rarely) see a river without water in it, such as the Todd in Alice Springs and Finke in Northern Territory, I think how mighty they must be when the water is flowing in them, which one day I would love to see. I also behold the wide Clarence River in NSW and the big bridge across it in Macksville. Love the big rivers in KZN too and the bridges across them which sometimes get washed away in torrential rainstorms.

Rubyfire writes said...

Thanks...I'd like to see that too. Maybe one day soon!
Do you still have the stones I found especially for you on the bottom of a river in Norway, and carried them in my backpack across Europe to Africa when I was 21?!
Remember I gave them to you for Christmas and Tom got grumpy because he’d bought you a present, and you loved my bunch of river rocks just as much even though it cost me nothing :)

Georgia said...

I think of swinging off ropes from overhanging trees, rowing training on the beautiful Shoalhaven river, cooling off in the Murray at Tailem Bend at 10pm during a heatwave, and a deep fear of eels....ewww!