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The River Arun

Symbol Analysis

The poem takes place on the banks of some body of water, and the epigraph tells us specifically that it's the River Arun (which is in southern England). Let's think about the symbolic power of rivers for a moment… They're around for a long time, right? So rivers can connect past and present because you can imagine someone sitting and looking at the same river hundreds of years earlier.

  • Epigraph: The poet takes care to give us the specifics of where and when she wrote "To Melancholy." It seems like it was important to her that her readers know exactly what river the poem is about. Why do you think this is? Would it have changed your reading to imagine that it was a river or creek in your own neighborhood or area?
  • Line 1: The speaker gives human characteristics to the season Autumn—that's a classic case of personification. And the metaphor gets extended when the speaker says that Autumn is wearing a "veil." (See the theme of "Women and Femininity" for more on this). 
  • Line 2: The "grey mist" rises off of the water almost like a stream of ghosts. This may be what sparks the speaker's imagination. The ghosts of poetry past are beginning to haunt her!
  • Line 9: The speaker imagines that she could meet the ghost of Thomas Otway, a seventeenth-century poet and playwright, because the Arun is his "native stream," too. In other words, he grew up around the same area, so she imagines that he might have looked at the river for inspiration, too.

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