Rising Damp, by U.A. Fanthorpe

London's beach

It is World Poetry Day today. And World Water Day tomorrow. So here’s a poem about London’s rivers.


Rising Damp, by U.A. Fanthorpe

At our feet they lie low,
The little ferment 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 day
To the basin that London nestle 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, cages 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 dowsers rod bends to the source below.

Phlegethon, Acheron, Lethe, Styx.


14 thoughts on “Rising Damp, by U.A. Fanthorpe

    1. Jojo Bottrill

      Great poem I’m studying it at the poem. FYI. The word in the first stanza is fervent not ferment. Its meaning: display passionate intensity (archaic meaning hot, burning, boiling) which I think links with the last last few lines of the poem.

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  2. Ruth Richardson

    I love this poem. Thank-you so much for having it here. It was this poem that brought me to UA Fanthorpe’s poetry, and still, I think, the best poem she wrote.
    Did you know? There’s due to be a new edition of the Lost Rivers of London – the best book on the subject ever written. Spring 2016, Historical Publications. A TREAT for all Londoners who love the water.

    1. Barbara Sherrington

      I was just about to mention “ferment/fervent” and “day/clay” but glad to see someone else got there before me. Agreed, not a good policy to print something with very important spelling errors that totally change the meaning of the poem.

  3. Bloomsbury Peripheral

    Also maybe just buy the book and support the poet/poet’s estate rather than giving away artistic works for free.

  4. Peter Lawrence

    As a history tutor who specialises in London’s history underground, I really enjoyed the poem. One snippet, Tyburn is corrupted from “T”(The) “Y”(Island), “Burne”(River). The island referred to is “Thorney” – The Isle of Thorns. We now call the island Westminster.

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