We are the youngest children of the river
Which suffers us to return to it again,
            And yet again,
In preparation to be changed forever
As if newly from the hand of the Giver
            We came without stain,
            Clean as the rain.

Let us refresh the source that freshens us,
For from our source we cannot far remove,
            Cannot farther move,
Without distressing an ancient bond that is
The ligature between the eternities
            In which we live
      In which we love and live.

By river light we read our history
And watch ourselves become part of the land,
            Apart from the land,
As we embrace a mutual destiny
Or abrogate the solemn fealty
            That keeps us bound
            To our native ground.

The river flows away beneath the sun
But bears the sun upon it and the stars,
            The coursing stars, at night.
The river’s flame, the sky’s long gleam, are one,
Commingled, twinned, as are the world and man:
            Let both emerge to sight
      Reborn, forgiven, new-clothed in light.


Written on request to celebrate the designation of the New River in Ashe County, North Carolina, as an American Heritage River.


Fred Chappell is professor emeritus at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and was the poet laureate of North Carolina from 1997 to 2002. His most recent book is Shadow Box: Poems (2009), reviewed by David Middleton in these pages (Summer 2011).