The River’s Song

Monday Morning Musings:

 “Go forth, and the whores cackle!

Where women are, are many words;

Let them go hopping with their hackle [finery]!

Where geese sit, are many turds.

The Castle of Perseverance, 15th Century morality play


“The river sings and sings on.


There is a true yearning to respond to

The singing river and the wise rock.”

–Maya Angelou, “On the Pulse of Morning”

Full text  here.


What is the song of the river?

though I listen,

noisy are the thoughts unbidden

that flow within my brain,

meandering tributaries, bearing gifts

some chaff, some worthy

But hush, listen.


What is the song of the river

as it gently laps against the rocks?

A song of history

from its birth in Ice Age glaciers

to its passage to the sea?

A song of fish, of shad,

of Lenni Lenape

then European settlers,

migration of fish, migration of people

cycles repeated through time.

IMG_4270 2

What is the song of the river?

A song of birds in flight?

of cargo ships and Huck Finn rafts

Commerce and recreation,

the bustling colonial port,

capital of the early nation

still thrives,

though not as before

when cargo came by ship—

tea, rum, wine, tobacco, and people–

and passage to and from New Jersey was by ferry.

Now there are highways, bridges, and planes.

What is the song of the river?

A song of history

of battles fought

of soldiers dead

of memorials, reenactments, remembering

of fossils and relics.

Generations and regeneration,

children squealing with joy at butterflies

of gardens resurrected

of couples talking

of men and women jogging steps

of people seeking Pokemon,

yes, that here, too.

FullSizeRender 38

And what of the geese?

And what of their turds?


Yes, they’re underfoot,

chased by children and men in carts

And what of my words?

Do they cackle and crackle

like old whores?

Or do they stream like the river,

my song of musings?

I’m reminded of the history of women

who wrote,

long ago,

poetry, history, and letters,

Milcah Martha Moore, Hannah Griffits, Susanna Wright,

and others

who shared their work with other women

and some men, too.

It’s a song that carries to this day,

along both sides of this river, the Delaware.


What is the song of the river?

The sound of people celebrating

though we cannot see the water

from the festival site whose name pays tribute to it.

But we sit with friends

and we talk and we sample wine

Our words flow like the river

singing a song of friendship

and joy to be alive on a summer day.

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Further Information:

Red Bank Battlefield

Merril D. Smith, The World of the American Revolution: A Daily Life Encyclopedia 

New Jersey Wine Events

35 thoughts on “The River’s Song

  1. I remember crossing from Philadelphia into New Jersey and thinking how the Delaware was not all that different from the Niagara, which I’ve crossed many times. Both have history, with tales of culture and conflict, that played significantly in the early years of our nation, but there are fewer voices from the past that have told the tales of this area.

    Just recently, I’ve learned that an ancestor from the Susquehanna valley was a Loyalist who joined Butler’s Rangers and was captured while returning to collect his family after the Battle of Oriskany. He was taken as a prisoner to Hartford, where conditions were so poor that his deteriorating health led to his release (and eventual loss of his leg from frostbite conditions). On arriving home he learned of his family’s capture by Indians, and went to Quebec to arrange their release, with the aid of the British. He continued to fight with Butler’s Rangers, and, following the war, settled in the Niagara Peninsula of Canada. Ironically, his son, also a Loyalist (and my ancestor), moved from Niagara, across the river to Western New York, and lost his tavern when the British burned Buffalo during the War of 1812.

    Learning this has made me thirsty for more of that local history.

    • That’s fascinating family history, Ken!
      Of course, it makes me wonder what the women in the family were doing, and how they felt about the fighting and the moving. 🙂
      Did the one-legged ancestor stay in Canada? Did his son moved to Buffalo after the Revolution?

  2. He walked around Canada and New York for 2 years before having that leg amputated for gangrene. He had returned to Butler’s Ranger’s – some of their battles in New York and Pennsylvania are infamous for the atrocities committed by the Iroquois (allies of the British) – those massacres are linked in the Wiki on Butler’s Rangers. Records show him arriving in the Niagara Region when Butler moved a company from Montreal to the Niagara region (across the river from Buffalo) in 1783, and provision lists from Ft. Erie show him and his family through 1786.
    He and his children (including his son) who lived in Canada were given land grants by the British to allow them to settle in the Niagara region after the end of the fighting. Sometime later, his son must have crossed into NY, because records show his son to be the first settler in my home town in 1808, halfway between Buffalo and Niagara Falls, but that area was generally considered to be Buffalo at the time. He built a tavern in 1811, and when the British burned Buffalo, they traveled as far as that village, 12 miles downstream (more than halfway to Niagara Falls), burning every building.

    Yes, most accounts of that era are from the male perspective. Given customs and traditions at that time, it would be interesting to know what the women’s thoughts were on all of the events.

      • I’ve been 1/8 Tuscarora Indian all my life. My father’s grandmother was Tuscarora. My father went to the reservation with his brother, and they were able to establish that they were entitled to ID cards. Last year a saw a site with a family tree that connected to mine. Both sides of my father’s branch seemed to go back to Europe, so I finally did some research at, which cinched it – and their DNA test says no Native American. Now I have to get my sisters to have it done, and the next time I’m in the Niagara Falls area I’ll go to the tribal office and figure out how my father, uncle, aunt AND cousin (matrilineal) were able to show Indian heritage. So far, I’m satisfied with what I’ve found, but I still want to know.

      • Maybe your grandmother was adopted into the tribe. It’s all very interesting. I was hoping my ancestry DNA would show something unexpected, but it’s 90 something percent Eastern European Jewish.

  3. The River’s Tale

    Twenty bridges from Tower to Kew –
    Wanted to know what the River knew,
    Twenty Bridges or twenty-two,
    For they were young, and the Thames was old
    And this is the tale that River told:-

    I walk my beat before London Town,
    Five hours up and seven down.
    Up I go till I end my run
    At Tide-end-town, which is Teddington.
    Down I come with the mud in my hands
    And plaster it over the Maplin Sands.
    But I’d have you know that these waters of mine
    Were once a branch of the River Rhine,
    When hundreds of miles to the East I went
    And England was joined to the Continent.

    I remember the bat-winged lizard-birds,
    The Age of Ice and the mammoth herds,
    And the giant tigers that stalked them down
    Through Regent’s Park into Camden Town.
    And I remember like yesterday
    The earliest Cockney who came my way,
    When he pushed through the forest that lined the Strand,
    With paint on his face and a club in his hand.
    He was death to feather and fin and fur.
    He trapped my beavers at Westminster.
    He netted my salmon, he hunted my deer,
    He killed my heron off Lambeth Pier.
    He fought his neighbour with axes and swords,
    Flint or bronze, at my upper fords,
    While down at Greenwich, for slaves and tin,
    The tall Phoenician ships stole in,
    And North Sea war-boats, painted and gay,
    Flashed like dragon-flies, Erith way;
    And Norseman and Negro and Gaul and Greek
    Drank with the Britons in Barking Creek,
    And life was gay, and the world was new,
    And I was a mile across at Kew!
    But the Roman came with a heavy hand,
    And bridged and roaded and ruled the land,
    And the Roman left and the Danes blew in –
    And that’s where your history-books begin.

    For the St Lawrence is water
    The Mississippi is muddy water
    But the Thames is Liquid History

    • Thank you for your comment. I’m not sure if it means you liked my post or not.
      Kipling has a rather Anglo-Centric viewpoint, doesn’t he? 🙂 Though he can certainly tell a tale.
      All rivers carry history, although I have to admit that the history carried by the Thames is glorious. It’s also documented, unlike rivers in some places that had civilizations that vanished without leaving much more than a trace.

  4. You’ve really captured the feeling of the river, especially in American consciousness. What a lovely, ambitious poem.
    Is it ok if I share another river poem here? I promise I won’t bring up the musical Big River . . . . (Or in light of my post yesterday, the whole movement in UTC depicting slaves being sold down the river).

    The Negro Speaks of Rivers
    Langston Hughes, 1902 – 1967

    I’ve known rivers:
    I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the
    flow of human blood in human veins.

    My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

    I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
    I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
    I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
    I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln
    went down to New Orleans, and I’ve seen its muddy
    bosom turn all golden in the sunset.

    I’ve known rivers:
    Ancient, dusky rivers.

    My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

  5. This is a lovely, organic poem, flowing as it does from two different streams and illustrating once again that the best answer to small-minded people is the largeness of nature itself. Another strategy is to accept their words but do so ironically, exposing them to the light of day from an audience not intended.

    This poem reminded me of Whitman. Thank you, Merril, from another cackling goose.

    • Thank you for your kind and astute comments. I think we’re on the same wavelength here–or floating on the same river.
      I will definitely take the reminded of Whitman, Shirley. 🙂

  6. As usual you offer much 🙂 you capture the history songs of a river so well and I love how you wove the first quote in..I have a couple of photos of birds and their feathery latrine areas by the water.

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