U. A. FANTHORPE

Rising Damp

A river can sometimes be diverted but it is a very hard thing to lose it altogether. (J. G. Head: paper read to the Auctioneers' Institute, 1907.)

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).

London