1848 | London


An ode to a stinky river.

Filthy river, filthy river,
  Foul from London to the Nore,
What art thou but one vast gutter,
  One tremendous common shore?

All beside thy sludgy waters,
  All beside thy reeking ooze,
Christian folks inhale mephitis,
  Which thy bubbly bosom brews.

All her foul abominations
  Into thee the city throws;
These pollutions, ever churning,
  To and fro thy current flows.

And from thee is brew’d our porter—
  Thee, thou gully, puddle, sink!
Thou, vile cesspool, art the liquor
  Whence is made the beer we drink!

Thou, too, hast a conservator,
  He who fills the civic chair;
Well does he conserve thee, truly,
  Does he not, my good Lord Mayor?

About This Text

“Dirty Father Thames.” Punch, the satirical weekly magazine where this poem first appeared, often commented on the sanitation of Victorian London. Ten years after this poem’s publication, record-high summer temperatures contributed to the Great Stink of 1858. Unable to hold sessions due to the smell wafting into Westminster, Parliament considered moving its chambers farther from the shores of the Thames but ultimately passed a bill commissioning a modern sewage system for the city.