Monday, 28 March 2016

The Senne, that Underground River

Watch rivulets of water flow
In a gurgling rush downhill
Into hidden sewers they go
Storm basins soon begin to fill...

The network, linked by concrete pipes,
Supports and helps the River Senne
Gullies and drains of different types
Ensure down town is not a fen.

Medieval Brussels, fishing port
Coped with floods and times of drought
A canal in the 1550s bought
To the city more commercial clout.

Fast development on a grander scale;
Prosperity was now assured
Though sometimes river banks might fail
As defences, at their best, were flawed.

Stilt-walkers often plied their wares
From houses damp with heavy rains
Brussels, built on many layers,
Needed more efficient drains...

With overcrowding and pollution
Cholera struck and thousands died
The city searched for a solution:
“Vault the river!” Suys* then cried.

In just four years, the slums were cleared
The river flowed beneath our feet
Cholera – no more to be feared
Was banished from the Brussels street.

But the city swelled and still it rained
Hydraulic works were undertaken;
A cleaner Senne a new bed claimed
Beginning near the Midi Station.

Now a hundred men work day and night
To dredge the sewers, make repairs
A museum stands upon the site;
You can see the River from the stairs!

(c) Poet in the woods 2016

*Léon Suys - the chief architect



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