July 24, 2012

Misfortune’s Wheel

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
and heroins
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
Impressionists’ Grenouillere. 

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?



Charles said...

Vorüber! Ach, vorüber!
Geh, wilder Knochenmann!
Ich bin noch jung! Geh, lieber,
Und rühre mich nicht an.
Und rühre mich nicht an . . .

very Victorian Ms. Edna. Thank you.

Alistair said...

Go for a walk
up your nearest stream.
Look for weirs,
sluice gates,
stones laid in the river bed,
little stone arches.
These were built by men
needing to control the water
to make their wheel work
at its best.

Nice post Ms. Edna.

Dr.Bunsen and your gaggle of fans said...

Tail-Race –
The water course leading from a mill after it has passed the water-wheel.

Thank you, Ms. Edna, charming post.

frenchtoast said...

La Machine de Marly …
Perdue dans la brume, un matin de mars, les vestiges de la Machine de Marly qui servait à pomper l'eau de la Seine, puis à lui faire monter la colline dans un raffut épouvantable avec une machinerie d'un autre âge, pour aller alimenter les fontaines du Parc de Versailles au temps de Louis XIV.
Merveilleux Ms. Edna.