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Poem of the Month: July
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“Two Streams” / L.C.C.

Yes, they are bright and sparkling in their flow,
The sunlight dances on their crystal tide;
Those streams to drink of which ye stoop so low,
To track whose course ye wander far and wide;
But hear ye not the solemn warning strain?
“Who of these waters drinks shall thirst again!”

“True, we have tasted;” so you make reply,
And thirst has followed, burning thirst too sure;
But these delicious springs still tempt the eye,
And seem to well from sources fresh and pure;
Another draught will, doubtless, still our pain,
Nor, having drained it, shall we thirst again!

Stoop, then, and quaff the swift, delusive wave,
Of earthly pleasure, honour, love, once more;
It gives the transient ease before it gave,
It leaves the quenchless want it left before;
The truth is proved, so often heard in vain—
“Who of these waters drinks shall thirst again.”

Oh, aching hearts! So restless in your woe,
As draught on draught from wave on wave is tried;
The streams that quench have not their source below,
Each is not mirrored in their healing tide;
Will ye not seek them, taught by want and pain,
And seeking find, and never thirst again!

Published in Good Words (1861)


Published in the second volume of Good Word (1861), L.C.C.’s “Two Streams” is a perfect example of the type of poetry published by the popular religious periodical. A significant number of the poems published in Good Words identify the natural world as a meditative space, modifying the theories of language and poetics that they inherited from the Romantics and Keble’s The Christian Year (1827).

The poetry in Good Words consistently presents readers with illustrated vistas and textual reflections that require a reader to interpret the meaning behind the poetic text and simultaneously engage with the imaginative, meditative, or spiritual space created by the poem’s accompanying illustration. In effect, the poems act as prompts for individual introspection linked to one’s Christian faith. Their effectiveness is dependent on the reader’s involvement, and the reader’s adherence to the periodical’s overwhelming call for active, reflective reading.

“Two Streams” is one such example. It uses a specific reference to nature (in this case, a stream, the water of which traditionally supports human life) to emphasize the limits of the material world, positioning it against the bounty of faith. The material stream of nature cannot quench one’s thirst like the alternative stream of faith. The poem thus acknowledges the bounty of nature while warning the reader that the physical sustenance of nature is not enough. The speaker dismisses the earthly stream as a “delusive wave, / Of earthly pleasure” that “gives the transient ease” and ultimately “leaves the quenchless want it left before” (2: 657). “Who of these waters drinks,” the speaker concludes, “shall thirst again” (2: 657). The reader’s spiritual thirst can only be quenched once they realise that “[t]he streams that quench have not their sources below” (2: 657). In this particular poem, it is through the breakdown of the understood physical relationship between thirst and water that spiritual growth and a true understanding of faith come about. Nature becomes a conduit for understanding the consolation offered by faith, as the poet reveals its limitations in the physical world only to use the metaphor of thirst and water to speak of the salvation offered by God. The poem forces the reader to rethink the common tropes of nature and nature poetry within this new poetics of faith.

The illustration, which appears appended to the poem and is, unfortunately, quite dark when printed from microfilm, captures the natural elements discussed, giving the reader a (visual) space in which they can pause to consider and reflect on the message delivered by the preceding text. This effect is repeated throughout Good Words. Poetry and illustration become spaces for spiritual thought prompted by the textual and visual object on the page. This use of poetry supports the periodical’s editorial aim to provide reader’s with a periodical space to read morally improving and thought provoking good words on a Sunday evening.

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