The Meaning of Rivers: Flow and Reflection in American by T. S. McMillin

By T. S. McMillin

Within the continental usa, rivers serve to attach nation to country, inside with external, the prior to the current, yet additionally they divide locations and peoples from each other. those connections and divisions have given upward push to a various physique of literature that explores American nature, starting from shuttle bills of seventeenth-century Puritan colonists to journal articles by way of twenty-first-century fans of maximum activities. utilizing pivotal American writings to figure out either what literature can let us know approximately rivers and, conversely, how rivers aid us take into consideration the character of literature, The that means of Rivers introduces readers to the wealthy global of flowing water and a few of the several ways that American writers have used rivers to appreciate the realm wherein those waters flow.      Embracing a hybrid, essayistic form—part literary thought, half cultural heritage, and half fieldwork—The that means of Rivers connects the arts to different disciplines and scholarly paintings to the land. no matter if constructing a idea of palindromes or interpreting works of yankee literature as different as Henry David Thoreau's every week at the harmony and Merrimack Rivers and James Dickey’s Deliverance, McMillin urges readers towards a transcendental retracing in their personal interpretive encounters.      the character of texts and the character of “nature” require assorted and flexible interpretation; interpretation calls for not just intensity and focus but additionally ingenious considering, broad-mindedness, and engaged connection-making. by way of taking us upstream in addition to down, McMillin attracts awareness to the possibility of rivers for bettering our experience of position and time. 

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Still, just like the birds that tantalize with their song and flight, the river is but a thing of this world. Bradstreet concludes by having the poet directly address Time, “the fatal wrack of mortal things, / That draws oblivion’s curtains over kings,” promising that the soul “shall last and shine” when By the River╇ |╇ 31 nature and other worldly phenomena are gone. The crux of her riparian “contemplations” on “the nature of the human condition in time and eternity” is that humans are caught between two choices, summarized neatly in the title of a poem from the same period, “The Flesh and the Spirit,” the action of which also occurs “close by the banks” of flowing water (in this case, “Lacrim flood,” a river of tears).

Readers: be encouraged. Meaning is possible, if you will but stomp some suppleness into your minds and keep them from hardening by occasional use. Twain’s multilayered, highly textured approach to crafting the river challenges readers to overcome the tendency to yaw one way or the other, to the overly analytic or the overly romantic; his book challenges us to think again about the Mississippi and look into its many meanings. Those challenges can be seen in the very assemblage of the book. Twain’s style of writing nearly always involves the combination of many threads and layers into a complex weave, the resulting texts consisting of multiple dialects and discourses, poses and perspectives.

Even with these measures, writers will not have fully realized a river’s meaning; they will have made a necessary start toward rendering the richness of a river accessible. The complexity of this approach stems from Twain’s experiences with the Mississippi and also from his lifelong wrestling match with the nature of meaning, whether it was the meaning of the river or the meaning of life or the meaning that writers can convey to readers. In his autobiography he mourns the lack of significance in life, a loss of meaning evident in more than one context.

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