Oct 11, 2010

Misinterpretation of "The Stream's Secret"

While working on my Master's degree, I took a class that focused on the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.  One of Dante Gabriel Rossetti'smost famous poems is "The Stream's Secret."  It is a haunting, romantic tale.  At least, that's how *I* took it.  In fact, I wrote a short-short story based on what I thought was happening in the poem.  Turns out my interpretation received very mixed reviews.  At least it sparked conversation. Note: When this was written, I was still pretty 'young' in my writing development.

A Misinterpretation of "The Stream's Secret" by David W. Henderson (c)2000, 2010

Peter knelt in the long, thick grass along the stream. Intently, he watched the water flow over rocks, under branches, and around a few grassy knolls. He could see the bottom of the stream perfectly. The rocks and pebbles danced along the bed without moving. Light played with the rippling water, animating the inanimate. He tilted his head slightly, his right ear bent ever so carefully toward the bubbling brook. He held his breath. The bubbling, fumbling stream did not speak to him. He sighed deeply and shook his head.

"Did you not see?" Peter asked the stream. "Did you not hear?" he yelled out, clenching his fists at the brook. He stood, his well-pressed trousers now wrinkled and stained green from the grass. He paid no attention to his pants. Slowly, he turned, stretching his arms out in a wide arc to the place that had been behind him.

"She was here," he told no one. Taking two steps away from the stream, he pointed at the ground where he now stood. "She was right here," he repeated loudly. He fell to his knees, slumping over himself until his hair rested on the ground. Tears fell from his eyes onto the grass. His body heaved as he sobbed, still crunched like a child hiding from the seeker. The mucus from his nose dangled toward the ground, swaying with each sob-ridden breath he took. Finally, it broke, landing in a pool beneath his nose.

Suddenly, he slammed one fist into the ground. Absently, we wiped his pressed jacket sleeve across his face, taking with it tears and snot and pain. He stood, ignoring the grass stains on his sleeves where his elbows had rested on the ground. Spinning on one heel, he turned to face the babbling brook once again.

"Why won't you talk to me?" he scorned. He took two steps back toward the stream, brought his leg back and kicked his patent leather shoe at the water. A plume erupted as his foot surfaced from the depths of the stream. Ignoring the soaked sock in his shoe, he kicked at the stream once more. Again, the stream answered with a fountain of water where his foot exited through the surface. Now, the stirred dirt from the bed hid the stones and rocks that were once visible. The stream's flow carried the sediment away from Peter, as it carried Sarah not long ago.

Sarah was beautiful. He long, coppery hair flowed down over her shoulders and covered her breasts. She was exquisite. Her long, cream-colored arms could reach the night sky and pluck out a star. Her shapely, toned legs coulee leap a rainbow and land her in the pot of gold at the end of it. Her satiny smooth skin glistened in the morning dew as she lay in the grass.

Peter turned, looking over his shoulder at the spot where he had been sobbing. "As she lay in the grass," he said aloud. His eyes darkened as he turned his gaze back toward the stream. That horrid stream. That keeper of secrets. His heart pounded in his chest. His breathing had become deep, heavy. He clenched his jaw tight, then spat into the water. "Keeper of secrets," he growled.

His mind flashed - Sarah lay in the grass, nude. He blinked at the stream. Flash - her lover beside her. He stared at a rock on the stream's bed. Flash - her lover slain. Rippling waves cannot break his stare. Flash - his around her throat. His jaw clenched tighter. He dragged her into the stream. His jaw moved, emitting a sharp "pop" as his teeth rubbed against each other. Sarah kicked, squirmed, twisted. Her face plunged into the stream. He wide eyes stared at Peter in disbelief. Her mouth moved, "Peter! Peter!" Her lips formed words, but make no sound. "No! Peter!" Air rushed in and out of her lungs, making bubbles at the surface. The babbling brook became violent at the intrusion. Dirt, rocks and sand all tossed and churned wildly as Sarah splashed in the water.

A small, wry smile crept on Peter's face. He blinked twice then focused his gazed on the spot where Sarah drank her last breath. The smile on Peter's face softened as he pictured her there in the water. The stream bubbled around and passed her. Her face rested above the surface, peaceful and calm. Sarah stared blankly at the stars above. Peter leaned over her and slipped his arms around her. His lips covered her soft, smooth cheeks with tender kisses. He took one hand from behind her back and gently stroked her hair as it waved lazily in the stream. Tenderly, he kissed her lips as softly as a new lover on his wedding night. He gazed into Sarah's lifeless eyes, then closed her eyelids, sealing each with a gentle kiss. Again, he slipped both of his arms around her and embraced her, pulling their two bodies together. After a few moments, he released her. She lingered at first, not wanting to leave her lover. But, finally, the stream urged her along and she relented. She began to move, but stopped suddenly as she planted her feet into the stream's bed.

Peter's eyes widened at the sight of his Sarah's hesitation. His heart raced as the gravity of his mistake comes to his full attention. Sarah was not dead after all! She had stopped to be with him! He smiled - a small, shaky laugh escaped his lips. He stood, meaning to help her out of the water. As he bent over her, she moved away from him. Her feet still seemed planted, but her body drifted away from his reaching arm. The stream continued to push her, helping her along as it turned her body away from his. Her head pointed downstream. Peter's arms dropped to his side and she slumped to the ground beside the stream. Sarah drifted away from him, forever.

If you'd like to read the poem, you can find it: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/archive/poem.html?id=174291

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