How still the millpond, how shallow-sweet the weedy water
and its flitting flies, its green weep of foliage!
And look- this great curved cage,
these noble stanchions,
this ruthless rouser of wet revolutions …
the venerable waterwheel
which for centuries
has coursed its wooden way
to grind corn
for the hungry mouth
and fluttering hearts of humankind.
Look closely-isn’t there something
horrid about the thing,
something ancient and torturous,
a watery Catherine wheel?
Ra-ther! Most so.
And most certainly a hundred
ladies of breeding have fallen foul of the thing.
Victorian novels were greatly drawn to waterwheels.
If the heroine was not mortally immersed in the still,
cold glass of the millpond,
then she got caught in that thrashing wheel,
got mangled and bloodied, mashed and drowned.
Or even worse, got lashed to it
by the vile-whiskered villainous miller
for not paying her bill of dishonor.
Thereafter the weeds yearned with their flowing tongues to lick her body,
which floated, for all eyes the better to see, neatly upon its back.
The biggest waterwheel in the world,
one reads, is at Laxey on the Isle of Man,
though no more is it touched by man’s hand.
There are strange waterwheels
to launder gold-dusty tailings.
Syrian Hama is famous for its multiple wheels
raising water from the Orontes
to irrigate fields and gardens above;
once there were thirty, now there are only a few.
My own favorite wheel is in the
Seine at Marly-la-Machine,
near Bougival and the
The original wheel raised water to an aqueduct
to feed the gardens of Versailles,
and the disappeared Chateau de Marly.
The present immense iron contraption, high as a house, dates from 1859.
It looks like something dropped from a giant paddle steamer,
one of those great iron paddle wheels wherein not heroines
but usually heroes got mashed in the stormier railway bookstall novels . . .
but we’ve wheeled full circle, isn’t this where we came in?