Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE RIVER HOUSE, by EDMUND CHARLES BLUNDEN



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THE RIVER HOUSE, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Set in a circlet of silver rain
Last Line: And warns the wandering foot away.
Alternate Author Name(s): Blunden, Edmund


SET in a circlet of silver rain,
Lilac bows to the window-pane;
The flagging elder dips, and scrapes
The mossed brown wall at the will of the breeze,
And the vine is sad, for her small green grapes
Must shrivel and die with such a sky,
And never may be like Tuscany's.

Looking out to the North we see
Dark rains run over the distant lea;
The clouds lean low on the ragstone hurst
And slant slate roofing of its pens;
And with relentless waterburst
In swift dense shower they totter and cower
Over the valleys and over the fens.

In the whispering attic the poor ghost treads;
With the click of the clock and the splash from the leads,
The room is drowsily dull, and dark;
For all the rain we will be outdoors,
Down to the bank of the weirpool. Hark
To the foam and the spray of the tumbling bay;
The weir is opened, the swirled rush roars.

Rooks caw fitfully high in the elms
As the tempest gathers and overwhelms;
The doves sob quietly in their cote,
For they are quick to hear the moans
Of immemorial grief that float
In undersong alone along
The shrouded moors and cromlech-stones.

There through the far trees goes a train,
Carriage-roofs aglisten with rain;
Over the river you hear it roar,
Over the ponderous red steel bridge,
Then it leaps into sight once more,
Shrills its scream, and shuts off steam
At the tiny halt on the misty ridge.

Not many steps, and we reach the place
Where the river parts from the old mill-race;
The mill is used for a powerhouse now,
And the mill-wheel turns the dynamo,
But still on the walls is the peach-tree's bough,
And the ivy still is dear to the mill
And black-tailed chub still shoal below.

The fields are desolate in the storm,
And the hare is sheltering in her fourm:
Stoats are none that yesterday
Slid snakelike through the bents to steal
But the high lark soars to his roundelay,
And voles snap reeds, and through the weeds
Black moorhens scurry, above the wheel.

The fields are desolate under the gray;
But once they have seen the sun to-day.
He came up in a blood-red lift
That blackened like the red blood spilt,
And through a sudden awful rift
There came a gleam, a fiery dream
Of God's eye watching demon guilt.

So heavily drives the rain, and lashes
The open pool into white mist-plashes,
And even under the alder's shelter
The shallows are sullying into a haze,
And the wind and the weir make small waves welter
The red bank peacelessly, fecklessly, ceaselessly,
And backward the huddling current sways.

The roar of the lasher dulls the sound
Of the plunging mill-wheel's rusty round.
Yet from behind the door in the bank
Waters seethe in a bubbling leap,
And pent in brickwork, mouldy and dank,
As steel rams toil and thud, they boil
And the culvert casts them into the deep.

Come to the trees at the foot of the weir,
Four hawthorn trees that stand so near
That their roots have thrust out into the pool.
There we can watch the turbulent foam,
Fantastically beautiful,
And eddies askance in wild jagged dance,
Jewelled and pearled to revel and roam.

You would scarcely think, to see the might
Of the waters spurting and writhing white,
That yesterday the lazy stream
Lay under the hot noon still as stone,
Except where old ungainly bream
Rose from their slime to bask and prime
Where glades of drowsy sun were strown.

Clear by the tricklings of the dam,
Ruddy-finned roach and bronze carp swam;
With here and there a perch blue-barred,
And two foot down a moody pike
Looking with small eyes, small and hard,
At the shoals that lay a yard away,
But far too glutted and drowsy to strike.

Yet even then I thought I spied
In the coppiced shade of the farther side,
Where the jutting oak-stub blackened a space,
Evilly under the surface lurking,
The water-spirit's livid face,
Medusa-fashioned, deadly-passioned,
Setting a perilous whirlpool working.

And now the drowned boughs swirl and toil
Up and down as the currents coil;
And where small eels swarmed up the weed
And slippery green of the water-gate,
Turbulent terror and clamour is freed,
That ploughs and troubles the pit into bubbles
And undercurrents of treacherous hate.

The water forces its shining shares
Fast through the fallow pool, that bears
The certain beauty of strength and speed,
The luring thrall and the dizzying spell,
The blind mad whirlpool's gloating greed,
That bids men leap and be drowned deep
Whose minds are racked on a wheel of hell.

Some worship mountains, some the sea;
But a river god is the god for me,
And to live in a house by the din of a weir,
Or a mill with a mill-head huge and deep,
And yellow lilies and white in the mere,
Or a farm that looks on rambling brooks
Is a thing I hold as dear as sleep.

Whether the rains are abroad, as now
To darken the river, and mat the brow;
Whether the sun makes shadow sweet,
And beckons the rudd and bream to rise,
Or whether the floods of winter beat
In ruin and riot by sluice and eyot,
The river is dear, and shrewd, and wise.

A sullen and lonely god is he,
And he loves few; the alder tree
Hears him whispering under her boughs
And whispers answer; in nights of flood,
He treads around the river-house,
And makes low call to the mossed brown wall,
And watches the moon and black cloud scud.

But if you go day after day
And rove his banks, and watch his way,
Plunge in his pools, and thrid his fords,
And snare the snig eels under the stones,
You will hear him sing in gentle chords
And quiet rhymes and fairy chimes
That yours is the love to which he owns.

He is kindly at heart though seeming rude,
He is fond of the sun and the solitude;
Gives drink to oxen and men alike,
Turns the mill-wheel sturdily,
Draws waste water from channel and dike,
And carries the dead things down to a bed
In a quiet pit of the moving sea.

But there is an anguish strong on him,
The water-spirit, lustful and grim,
She rives him, writhes him, claw at clutch,
And chuckles and gorges with throat of clay,
And the river's churning spasms are such
That he cries through the gloom for a sleep and a tomb,
And warns the wandering foot away.





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