The River GodsPublished in The Spectator, 14 September, 2002
by R.A. Muller
The rivers of the London Clay
Run, hidden from the light of day,
In cutting, culvert, pipe and drain
Below the overburdened plain.
They dive beneath the office blocks
To reach the tideway and the docks,
And wind discreetly through a maze
Of narrow streets and crooked ways.
The Lea's enclosed in locks and bars
To form a set of reservoirs.
The Effra's under Brixton Hill,
A spare storm-water overspill.
The Westbourne's in a cast-iron frame.
The Tyburn's just a bitter name.
The concrete even hoards and hems
The passage of the mighty Thames
To meet its sea in rage and fear
Between the barrage and the weir.
So London's challenging the odds
Of all its ancient river gods,
The deities whose fluent hand
Not only owns, but made the land.
They'll seek possession and revenge.
They've been here since before Stonehenge,
And clay holds water in its bones,
And water wears away the stones.
The Walbrook runs below St. Paul's,
And what's it doing to the walls?
The Fleet, they say, is still alive:
Will Holborn viaduct survive?
The Ravensbourne has harm to wreak
From Caesar's Camp to Deptford Creek.
And probably they'll win at last.
All south-east England's sinking fast.
A confrontation may be near
The North Sea tides rise every year
Undefeated, honest unassuaged,
The pagan spirits, barely caged,
Are muttering amid their slime
That London lives on borrowed time.