steepholm (steepholm) wrote,

The Marriage of Thames and Sabrina

I was surprised to hear someone on the radio today mention in passing that the Thames had recently been "voted the world's most iconic river". Surprised, first because I don't remember getting the ballot papers, and secondly because I find it hard to imagine that the Thames, much as I love it, is truly more iconic (however one measures that elusive but oh-so-desirable quality) than than the Nile, the Amazon, the Ganges, the Jordan, the Euphrates, the Danube, the Rhine or a half a dozen other rivers around the globe.

It turns out, on half a minute's googling, that the Thames has actually won the Theiss River Prize, a worthy marker of its recovery from chemical alley to fish-heavy whale-road and otter playground, but hardly an index of iconicity per se.

Meanwhile, I much enjoyed Paul Farley's The Electric Polyolbion, still available on iPlayer for a few more days. Assiduous readers of this journal will know how much I value my 1722 copy of Britannia, but hardly less precious in my eyes is the 1876 Poly-Olbion that I was given in the mid 1990s by the poet Charles Sisson. Hearing I was a Spenserian, he ripped three volumes from the complete Drayton gracing the shelves of his home in Langport and handed them over - something only a true lover of poetry (as opposed to a bibliophile) would do. I can't resist quoting the lines in which Drayton glances at both Steep Holm and the isle of Lundy:

This Lundy is a Nymph to idle toys inclin'd;
And, all on pleasure set, doth wholly give her mind
To see upon her shores her fowl and conies fed,
And wantonly to hatch the birds of Ganymed.
Of traffic or return she never taketh care:
Not provident of pelf, as many Islands are:
A lusty black-brow'd Girl, with forehead broad and high,
That often had bewitch'd the Sea-gods with her eye.
Of all the inlaid Isles her sovereign Severne keeps,
That bathe their amorous breasts within her secret deeps,
(To love her Barry much and Silly though she seem,
The Flat Holme and the Steep as likewise to esteem)
This noblest British Nymph yet likes her Lundy best,
And to great Neptune's grace prefers before the rest.

I love the Poly-Olbion, but as much as anything of Drayton's I value the 'Advertisement' printed at the beginning of Volume 1 by the Rev. Richard Hooper:

The Editor feels that an apology is due, not only to the public, but to the publisher and printer, for the delay in the production of this work. He trusts, however that the present three volumes will prove with what care and accuracy the Edition is being prepared.

Upton, Berks. September 1875

Truly, such sentiments belong to an age now past.
Tags: books
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