River Thames

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The Thames is liquid history.
John Burns
Sweet Thames, run softly, till I end my song. —Edmund Spenser

The River Thames, known alternatively in parts as the River Isis, is a river that flows through southern England including London. At 215 miles (346 km), it is the longest river entirely in England and the second-longest in the United Kingdom, after the River Severn.


  • The silver Thames takes some part of this county in its journey to Oxford.
    • John Aubrey, The Natural History of Wiltshire, ed. John Britton (1847)
  • I have seen the Mississippi. That is muddy water. I have seen the St Lawrence. That is crystal water. But the Thames is liquid history.
  • Because of the Thames I have always loved inland waterways—water in general, water sounds—there's music in water. Brooks babbling, fountains splashing. Weirs, waterfalls; tumbling, gushing. Whenever I think of my birthplace, Walton-on-Thames, my reference first and foremost is the river. I love the smell of the river; love its history, its gentleness. I was aware of its presence from my earliest years. Its majesty centered me, calmed me, was a solace to a certain extent.


  • As I have seene when on the breast of Thames
    A heavenly beauty of sweet English Dames,
    In some calme Ev’ning of delightfull May,
    With Musick give a farewell to the day,
    Or as they would (with an admired tone)
    Greet Nights ascension to her Eben Throne,
    Rapt with their melodie, a thousand more
    Run to be wafted from the bounding shore.
    • William Browne, "Praise of Poets" in Britannia's Pastorals (1625 ed.), II, 2
    • Alternate readings: "bevy" for "beauty" (line 2)
  • Say, Father Thames, for thou hast seen
      Full many a sprightly race
    Disporting on thy margin green
      The paths of pleasure trace;
    Who foremost now delight to cleave
    With pliant arm thy glassy wave?
    • Thomas Gray, "On a Distant Prospect of Eton College" (1747), st. 3
  • An omnibus across the bridge
      Crawls like a yellow butterfly,
      And, here and there, a passer-by
    Shows like a little restless midge.
    Big barges full of yellow hay
      Are moored against the shadowy wharf,
      And, like a yellow silken scarf,
    The thick fog hangs along the quay.
    The yellow leaves begin to fade
      And flutter from the Temple elms,
      And at my feet the pale green Thames
    Lies like a rod of rippled jade.
  • Twenty bridges from Tower to Kew—
    (Twenty Bridges or twenty-two)—
    Wanted to know what the River knew,
    For they were young, and the Thames was old
    And this is the tale that the River told...

Poems of Places

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places, Vol. 3 (1876), pp. 227–254
  • But now this mighty flood, upon his voyage prest
    (That found how with his strength his beauties still increased,
    From where brave Windsor stood on tiptoe to behold
    The fair and goodly Thames, so far as ere he could,
    With kingly houses crowned, of more than earthly pride,
    Upon his either banks, as he along doth glide)
    With wonderful delight doth his long course pursue,
    Where Oatlands, Hampton Court, and Richmond he doth view,
    Then Westminster the next great Thames doth entertain;
    That vaunts her palace large, and her most sumptuous fane:
    The land’s tribunal seat that challengeth for hers,
    The crowning of our kings, their famous sepulchres.
    Then goes he on along by that more beauteous strand,
    Expressing both the wealth and bravery of the land.
    (So many sumptuous bowers within so little space
    The all-beholding sun scarce sees in all his race.)
    And on by London leads, which like a crescent lies,
    Whose windows seem to mock the star-befreckled skies;
    Besides her rising spires, so thick themselves that show,
    As do the bristling reeds within his banks that grow.
    There sees his crowded wharfs, and people-pestered shores,
    His bosom overspread with shoals of labouring oars:
    With that most costly bridge that doth him most renown,
    By which he clearly puts all other rivers down.
  • O roving Muse! recall that wondrous year
    When winter reigned in bleak Britannia’s air;
    When hoary Thames, with frosted osiers crowned,
    Was three long moons in icy fetters bound.
    The waterman, forlorn, along the shore,
    Pensive reclines upon his useless oar:
    See harnessed steeds desert the stony town,
    And wander roads unstable not their own;
    Wheels o’er the hardened water smoothly glide,
    And raze with whitened tracks the slippery tide;
    Here the fat cook piles high the blazing fire,
    And scarce the spit can turn the steer entire;
    Booths sudden hide the Thames, long streets appear,
    And numerous games proclaim the crowded fair.
    So, when the general bids the martial train
    Spread their encampment o’er the spacious plain,
    Thick-rising tents a canvas city build,
    And the loud dice resound through all the field.
    • John Gay, "The Frozen River" from Trivia (1716)
  • May all clean nimphs and curious water dames
    With swan-like state flote up and down thy streams:
    No drought upon thy wanton waters fall
    To make them leane, and languishing at all:
    No ruffling winds come hither to discease
    Thy pure and silver-wristed Naides.
    Keep up your state, ye streams; and as ye spring,
    Never make sick your banks by surfeiting.
    Grow young with tydes, and though I see ye never,
    Receive this vow, so fare ye well for ever.
  • Then commerce brought into the public walk
    The busy merchant; the big warehouse built;
    Raised the strong crane; choked up the loaded street
    With foreign plenty; and thy stream, O Thames,
    Large, gentle, deep, majestic, king of floods!
    Chose for his grand resort. On either hand,
    Like a long wintry forest, groves of masts
    Shot up their spires; the bellying sheet between
    Possessed the breezy void; the sooty hulk
    Steered sluggish on; the splendid barge along
    Rowed, regular, to harmony; around,
    The boat, light skimming, stretched its oary wings;
    While deep the various voice of fervent toil
    From bank to bank increased.
  • Thou too, great father of the British floods!
    With joyful pride survey’st our lofty woods;
    Where towering oaks their growing honors rear,
    And future navies on thy shores appear.
    Not Neptune’s self from all her streams receives
    A wealthier tribute than to thine he gives.
    No seas so rich, so gay no banks appear,
    No lake so gentle, and no spring so clear.
    Nor Po so swells the fabling poet’s lays,
    While led along the skies his current strays,
    As thine, which visits Windsor’s famed abodes,
    To grace the mansion of our earthly gods:
    Nor all his stars above a lustre show,
    Like the bright beauties on thy banks below;
    Where Jove, subdued by mortal passion still,
    Might change Olympus for a nobler hill.
  • Thames! the most loved of all the Ocean’s sons,
    By his old sire, to his embraces runs,
    Hasting to pay his tribute to the sea,
    Like mortal life to meet eternity.
    • Sir John Denham, from Cooper’s Hill (1642)
  • Where Thames along the daisied meads
    His wave in lucid mazes leads,
    Silent, slow, serenely flowing,
    Wealth on either side bestowing,
    There in a safe though small retreat,
    Content and Love have fixed their seat,—
    Love, that counts his duty pleasure;
    Content, that knows and hugs his treasure.
    From art, from jealousy secure,
    As faith unblamed, as friendship pure,
    Vain opinion nobly scorning,
    Virtue aiding, life adorning,
    Fair Thames along thy flowery side,
    May thou whom truth and reason guide
    All their tender hours improving,
    Live like us, beloved and loving.
  • I dearly love this London, this royal northern London,
    And am up in all its history, to Brutus and to Lud;
    But I wish that certain Puritan simplicities were undone,
    That the houses had more gable-ends, and the river less of mud.
    * * * * *
    But our river still is beautiful, rejoicing in the quaintest
    Old corners for a painter (till the new quays are begun).
    See there the line of distant hills, and where the blue is faintest,
    The brown sails of the barges lie slanting in the sun.
    • Bessie Rayner Parkes, "Up the River" in The Athenaeum (16 May 1863), p. 645
  • Thou who shalt stop where Thames’ translucent wave
    Shines a broad mirror through the shadowy cave,
    Where lingering drops from mineral roofs distil,
    And pointed crystals break the sparkling rill,
    Unpolished gems no ray on pride bestow,
    And latent metals innocently glow:
    Approach. Great nature studiously behold!
    And eye the mine without a wish for gold.
    Approach: but aweful! Lo the Egerian grott,
    Where, nobly-pensive, St. John sate and thought;
    Where British sighs from dying Wyndham stole,
    And the bright flame was shot through Marchmont’s soul.
    Let such, such only, tread the sacred floor,
    Who dare to love their country, and be poor.
  • Say, Father Thames, whose gentle pace
    Gives leave to view what beauties grace
    Your flowery banks, if you have seen
    The much-sung Grotto of the queen.
  • Thames, infant Thames,
        Rippling, flowing
          Where the bright
    Young wilding gems
          Are blowing;
      Babbling ever in unrest,
    While as o’er her darling’s pillow
    Bends the mother, so the willow
                O’er thy breast.
    Thames, maiden Thames,
          Glancing, shining
        While for you
    The lilied stems
          Are pining.
    Ah! thou lovest best to play
    Slily with the wanton swallow,
    While he whispers thee to follow
                Him away.
    Thames, matron Thames,
          That ebbest back
        From the sea;
        Oh! in thee
    There are emblems
          Of life’s track:
      We, too, would, like thee, regain,
    If we might, our greener hours;
    We, too, mourn our vanished flowers,
                But in vain.
  • O, clear are England’s waters all, her rivers, streams, and rills,
    Flowing stilly through her valleys lone and winding by her hills;
    But river, stream, or rivulet through all her breadth who names
    For beauty and for pleasantness with our own pleasant Thames.
    • William Cox Bennett, "The Glories of Our Thames"
  • The Thames! the mighty Thames!
    They say the mountain child
    Oft loves its torrent wild
    So well, that should he part
    He breaks his pining heart;
    He grieves with smothered sighs
    Till his wearying spirit dies;
    And so I yearn to thee,
    Thou river of the free,
    My own, my native Thames!
    • Eliza Cook, "The Thames"
  • Old Thames! thy merry waters run
    Gloomily now, without star or sun!
    The wind blows o’er thee, wild and loud,
    And heaven is in its death-black shroud;
    And the rain comes down with all its might,
    Darkening the face of the sullen Night.
    • Barry Cornwall, from "Il Penseroso and L’Allegro (Night)" in English Songs, and Other Small Poems (1846)
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