What are the most famous older poems about rivers, and what does the river symbolize in them?

Some famous poems about rivers are "To the River Charles" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, "The River" by Sara Teasdale, and "To the River Otter" by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. In Teasdale's poem, the river symbolizes the search for meaning or peace, and in Longfellow's and Coleridge's, it symbolizes happier and more carefree times.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

A great many poems have been written about rivers by some very famous poets. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Sara Teasdale, and Edgar Allan Poe have all written poems about rivers. Robert Louis Stevenson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, William Wordsworth, and Carl Sandburg have also written wonderful poems about rivers or streams as...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

A great many poems have been written about rivers by some very famous poets. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Sara Teasdale, and Edgar Allan Poe have all written poems about rivers. Robert Louis Stevenson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, William Wordsworth, and Carl Sandburg have also written wonderful poems about rivers or streams as well.

In the case of Sara Teasdale's poem "The River," the river is symbolic of a person's search for meaning and/or peace. Teasdale writes about a river that is searching for something. It is heading in the direction that it believes will eventually make it happy; however, the river ends up in a black and tumultuous ocean. The river longs for the "windless valleys" to take it back.

I came at last to the ocean
And found it wild and black,
And I cried to the windless valleys,
"Be kind and take me back!"

The river had happiness but always figured something better was just over the horizon, and that is a valuable lesson for people. The grass isn't always greener on the other side of the fence.

Longfellow's "The the River Charles" and Coleridge's "To the River Otter" both eulogize the river mentioned in the title of the poem. In both poems, the narrators show readers how the river is symbolic of happier, more carefree, and more youthful times. The poems mention things like how the river sparks memories of skipping stones or spending quality time with friends.

Friends my soul with joy remembers!
How like quivering flames they start,
When I fan the living embers
On the hearth-stone of my heart!

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team