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The River Alph

Symbol Analysis

This big, dramatic river takes over most of the first half of the poem. Our speaker is a fan – he seems to be constantly drawn back to the river. Descriptions of the river largely focus on how powerful it is. It gives us the poem's main images of the force and excitement of the natural world. While other places may be quiet or safe or calm, the river is noisy, active, and even a little dangerous. It is also always moving, traveling across the poem and across the landscape from the peaceful gardens to the faraway sea.

  • Line 3: The river is specifically introduced here, the only time its name is mentioned. The name Alph may be an allusion to the Greek river Alpheus. This connects us to a whole world of classical literature, art and history that was important to English poets.
  • Lines 21-22: Here the river surges up in a huge fountain, and it's so strong that it tears up pieces of rock and throws them along with it. The speaker wants us to understand this power, so he uses a simile, comparing the rocks to "rebounding hail." For added emphasis, he offers another simile in the next line. This time the comparison is with the process of "threshing." When you harvest a grain like wheat, you need to separate the part you can eat from the part that covers it, which is called the chaff (that's why he calls the grain "chaffy" in line 22). In Coleridge's time, you would do this by beating the grain with a tool called a "flail." This would loosen the chaff and make it easy to remove. So when you hit that grain, it would bounce and tumble around like the rocks in the raging River Alph.
  • Line 25:This poem has little moments of alliteration all over the place, but this is a big one. All the major words in this line start with "m." The murmuring sound of these words picks up the lazy, slow-moving feeling of the river at this moment in the poem.

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