River God Annotated Bibliography

Still Waiting (Tyndale, 2017)

Author and speaker Ann Swindell titles her first book Still Waiting: Hope for When God Doesn’t Give You What You Want.  In her book, Ann uncovers what the story of the Bleeding Woman reveals about Christ’s character as well as how He draws near to hurting people.  Since waiting isn’t a calm and even business, it exacerbates the hurt.  Also, in both small and overwhelming ways, we all know what brokenness feels like.  Ms. Swindell ties the two together when she states that “we wait because we are broken and we’re broken because we are waiting.”  In our waiting and brokenness, then, we must learn to love our patient God.

Thus, the road of weakness leads straight into waiting.  And it’s counter productive to wiggle our way out of brokenness.  Rather, we need to seek Jesus.  Because He embraced, valued, and entered into our weakness.  Therefore, we face a choice between our own strength and the strength of Christ.  Only Christ’s strength sustains us through our waiting, especially since waiting sometimes hurts more than our initial pain.  To walk step in step with Jesus involves paring down our illusion of self-sufficiency.  That’s our cost of waiting.  Surprisingly, this awareness is itself a gift, for there we encounter Jesus.  Also, this awareness of brokenness denotes our baseline reality – the starting point of our need for Jesus.

Most noteworthy, let Jesus speak identity over you.  Resist the temptation to define yourself by what you lack.  In doing so, you fall prey to Satan’s lies.  When you buy into Satan’s lies, offense easily creeps into your heart.  Offense leapfrogs your hope, tenderness, and faith.  At this point, you either walk the way of offense or the way of obedience.  As the author underscores, obedience enables you to keep putting one foot of faith in Christ in front of the other.  In addition, through obedience, you express heartfelt honesty as you get on your knees before God.  Also, this stance fosters healing as you spend time reading the Word and experiencing God’s presence.  It’s hard to harden your heart against Christ when you spend time with Him.

In conclusion, Jesus understands our brokenness and shame.  While letting shame live as a parasite in our place of struggle renders us enslaved to life under it’s control, we, like Jesus, must choose to scorn and silence shame.  In order to do this, we focus on Jesus instead of idolizing our suffering.  That focus on Jesus, in turn, leads us to risk.  Through risk, the only way forward, we realize closeness and intimacy with God and others.  Finally, until the day of healing comes, tell your story of Jesus’ presence with you in the midst of waiting.  Proclaim His restoration, for restoration brings hope.  As Ann exhorts, while you’re still waiting, hope founded in Christ never truly disappoints us:

“For now, we wait.  But we have hope in our waiting, whatever it is we are waiting for: hope that Christ is with us, hope that Christ is for us, hope that Christ is coming again.”

“The River God” (1950) is haunting, dreamlike, strange and open to interpretation. “The River God” may symbolise Death, Nature, the relationship between men and women, especially possessiveness. The poem was inspired by the River Mimram in Hertfordshire (AQA).
See also Stevie Smith’s bio on the author page.

(The River Mimram)

Themes: The poem is about a murderous River God, who drowns a woman he desires. The themes are the power of nature and the power of love.

Form and Structure: Dramatic Monologue. Like Duke of Ferrara in Robert Browning’s My Last Duchess, the speaker’s evil nature is gradually revealed.

The poem is written as one long continuous stanza, with several interwoven ideas.

Tone: The speaker has an insinuating, disturbing voice that makes the reader progressively more uneasy as his murderous intentions become clear.

Language: Smith adopts the persona of the River God, writing in the present tense. The tone is informal, colloquial and conversational. The rhyme scheme is broadly couplets, some imperfect rhyme, though the last four lines form an ABBA pattern, with the feminine rhyme ‘river’ and ‘forgive her’ to provide the final resolution. The poet has carefully chosen the vocabulary to tell a sinister story.

An odd fact: If one turns the poem sideways, with the irregular length lines projecting vertically, it appears like reeds growing out of a river bed. This is known as a ‘shape poem’.

Related Poems:
- ‘Not Waving but Drowning’, also by Stevie Smith.
- Contemporary poet Vicki Feaver responded to this poem in her own version of “The River God”, in which the River God is domesticated and almost pathetic:

The River God
doesn’t know why he’s such a strong swimmer;

why the women – in bars,
seem flaky, juiceless; why he wants to smear
their mouths and ears and stomachs
with slime; why the water he shakes
from his hair, that twists
off his shoulders in the shower,
glitters with sticklebacks, snails,
minnows; why his wife follows
his wet footprints with a cloth;
makes him wear slippers.

Further Reading:

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