This essay will make the connection between water and the power of imagination, and argue that by losing touch with the ancient tradition that water is holy, we treat streams, rivers and wells as merely utilitarian objects, to be exploited and not revered. This desacralisation of water is an attitude found with other aspects of nature and, I shall argue, is analogous to a loss of a sense of mythic imagination in poetry and other arts. The diminution of the mythopoeic worldview and rise of science in the eighteenth century resulted in people seeing and treating water, and nature, in a brutally pragmatic way. Also, with streams and rivers being used as conveyors of chemicals and other waste, instead of ‘fonts’ of inspiration, poetry has lost one of its core metaphors for creativity and the imagination. I will emphasise the role that William Blake’s idea of ‘Double Vision’ — perceiving the sacred reality behind the surface object — is central to changing our view of rivers (and nature). And I will illustrate this through examples of poems, including GM Hopkins’s ‘Inversnaid’, Henry Vaughan’s ‘The Waterfall’, and Emily Dickinson’s ‘What mystery pervades a well!’.
Keywords: water; pollution; poetry; imagination