Throughout Caroline Anne Bowles’ poem, readers will get to see four parts of the river’s life, from youth to eternity. She uses several different types of figurative language in this poem as well as imagery that makes the entire scene quite easy to imagine. Readers should leave this poem with thoughts of nature and eternity on their mind.
Explore The River
In the first stanza of ‘The River,’ the poet describes the river as a child. As it grows in size, strength, and determination, it becomes a youth. Then, in the third stanza, it hits its prime where it is stretched to its will width and much calmer. This leads it into its final stage when it flows into the ocean and eternity. In this last stanza, the metaphorical life cycle of the river is completed and it ends up as a symbol for eternity, a religious allusion to God and Heaven.
In ‘The River,’ Bowles engages with themes of time and eternity. She uses time as a device to track the river’s life, breadth, and strength. Finally, it reaches the metaphorical end of its days. Eternity appears in the final stanza as the river makes its way into the ocean, and to somewhere which no ships have sailed. This line is very easily read as an allusion to an afterlife, somewhere that people can’t visit and return from. There, it joins with the ocean, as a Christian believer would hope to join with God.
Structure and Form
‘The River’ by Caroline Anne Bowles is a four-stanza poem that is divided into sets of five lines, known as quintains. These quintains follow a simple rhyme scheme of ABCCB, changing end sounds from stanza to stanza. Readers should also take note of the fact that the first line of every stanza ends with the same word, and therefore the same rhyme, “river.” This is an example of epistrophe.
Bowles makes use of several literary devices in ‘The River.’ These include but are not limited to refrain, alliteration, and personification. The latter is a type of figurative language that occurs when the poet imbues something inhuman with human characteristics. For example, the poet describes the “yellow pebbles dancing” and the river “brawling” and “leaping.”
A refrain is a type of repetition that occurs when the poet uses the same phrase multiple times. In this case, each stanza begins with “River, river” and ends with a line beginning with “Like.”
Alliteration is another kind of repetition. It occurs when the poet uses the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple lines. For example, “flowers and foliage” in line four of the first stanza as well as “rush” and “rough” in line two of the second stanza.
Analysis, Stanza by Stanza
River, river, little river!
Bright you sparkle on your way;
O’er the yellow pebbles dancing,
Through the flowers and foliage glancing,
Like a child at play.
In the first stanza of ‘The River,’ the speaker begins with the first example of the refrain, the repeated words, “River, river.” She exclaims over the river, celebrating the way it brightly sparkles as it dances over the “yellow pebbles.” This is a great example of personification to start off the poem. It continues into the next lines with a simile that compares the river to a “child at play.” These simple lines include imagery that is quite easy to envision. The poet’s tone, one of elation and appreciation, comes through clearly as well.
River, river! swelling river!
On you rush through rough and smooth;
Louder, faster, brawling, leaping,
Over rocks, by rose-banks, sweeping
Like impetuous youth.
The second stanza is similar to the first in that the poet spends the lines describing the river’s movements. This time, she uses a more determined language. It is less gentle than it was. Now it is “brawling” like an “impetuous youth.” The river is metaphorically aging as the stanzas progress.
River, river! brimming river!
Broad and deep, and still as time;
Seeming still, yet still in motion,
Tending onward to the ocean,
Just like mortal prime.
The third stanza brings the river to its “mortal prime.” Now, it is “brimming” over and broad, “still as time.” Yet, still, it is in motion going onward to the ocean. This timeline of age is related to the size of the river and its power moving towards the ocean. At first, it was a lively stream, then a more powerful river and now it’s broadened to its full extent and is much calmer.
River, river! headlong river!
Down you dash into the sea, _
Sea that line hath never sounded,
Sea that sail hath never rounded,
In the final stanza, the river is described as dashing down “into the sea.” The poet concludes with images of immortality. The river is somewhere that the “sail hath never rounded.” It’s in “eternity.” This is likely a religious allusion to the afterlife, somewhere that no one can visit, or sail to, and return from.
Readers who enjoyed ‘The River’ by Caroline Anne Bowles should also consider reading some related poems. For example:
- ‘Overlooking the River Stour’ by Thomas Hardy – uses imagery and metaphors to relay a depiction of the scene around the Stour River.
- ‘To the Nile’ by John Keats – directly addresses the Nile river in the style of Keats’ other odes.
- ‘The Brook’ by Alfred Lord Tennyson – written in 1886, ‘The Brook’ describes the life of a brook that’s going to go on for eternity. The poet follows the water through a valley, around farms, and into a larger river.