Brautigan > The Return of the Rivers

This node of the American Dust website (formerly Brautigan Bibliography and Archive) provides comprehensive information about Richard Brautigan's The Return of the Rivers. Published in 1957, and bound in paper wrappers, this single poem in two parts was Brautigan's first published poetry book. Publication and background information is provided, along with reviews, many with full text. Use the menu tabs below to learn more.


Publication information regarding Richard Brautigan's single poem The Return of the Rivers. Because it was printed by an established press, and bound in paper wrappers this is considered Brautigan's first (poetry) book publication.

First USA Edition

San Francisco, California: Inferno Press
Limited Edition: 100 copies; First Printing May 1957
Black construction paper wrappers with a paper label on the front printed with "Inferno Press."
Each label signed by Brautigan directly above the printed press name.


Berkeley Review, vol. 1, no. 3, 1957, pp. 14-15.
Published 1921 Walnut Street, Berkeley, California, 1956-1957. Edited/published by William P. Barlow, Jr., George Huppert, and C. A. Tong.
Published only one volume (with three issues) from Winter 1956 through 1957.

Although there are no dates, other than year, in or on this magazine, a letter/discussion on page 47 by Richard Wilbur called "Commentary" is dated 11 September 1957. This suggests that Brautigan's poem, "The Return of the Rivers," was reprinted, rather than first published, in this magazine.

Featured two Brautigan poems: "The Return of the Rivers" (page 14) and "The Horse That Had A Flat Tire" (page 15). Both collected in The Pill versus The Springhill Mine Disaster.

This issue also featured work by Walter Ballenger, Adrian Stoutenberg, Barbara Cochran, May Swenson, Robert Beloof, Samuel Menashe, Donald Gutierrez, David Cornel DeJong, John Tagliabue, Anthony Ostroff, Richard Wilbur, Richard Eberhart, and Robert Horan.



First published May 1957, The Return of the Rivers was a single poem in two parts, printed as a broadside, folded, and laid into black construction paper wrappers. A paper label on the front cover was printed with "Inferno Press" and signed by Brautigan. Because of its printing by an established press and because it was bound in wrappers, The Return of the Rivers is considered to be Brautigan's first published book.

Alternatively, this poem was was printed as a favor for Brautigan by Leslie Woolf Hedley, owner/publisher of Inferno Press. And Brautigan, his wife Virginia Dionne Alder, and poet Ron Loewinsohn folded the broadsides into the black construction paper wrappers and pasted the labels on the front. Brautigan signed each label above the printed "Inferno Press."

Brautigan published several single poems previously. The Return of the Rivers was collected and reprinted in The Pill versus The Springhill Mine Disaster.



Richard Brautigan's poem, The Return of the Rivers, is a single poem in two parts.

The Return of the Rivers

All the rivers run into the sea;
yet the sea is not full;
unto the place from whence the rivers come,
thither they return again.

     It is raining today
in the mountains.

     It is a warm green rain
with love
in its pockets
for spring is here,
and does not dream
of death.

     Birds happen music
like clocks ticking heaves
in a land
where children love spiders,
and let them sleep
in their hair.

     A slow rain sizzles
on the river
like a pan
full of frying flowers,
and with each drop
of rain
the ocean
begins again.



Reviews for Richard Brautigan's poem The Return of the Rivers are detailed below. See also reviews of Brautigan's collected works, and General Reviews for commentary about Brautigan's work and his place in American literature.

Bokinsky, Caroline J. "Richard Brautigan." Dictionary of Literary Biography. Vol. 5: American Poets Since World War II. Edited by Donald J. Greiner. Gale Research Company, 1980, pp. 96-99.

Critical comments on The Return of the Rivers, The Galilee Hitch-Hiker, Lay the Marble Tea, The Octopus Frontier, All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace, The Pill versus The Springhill Mine Disaster, Rommel Drives on Deep into Egypt, Loading Mercury with a Pitchfork, and June 30th, June 30th. Also provides some biographical and bibliographical information. Says The Return of the Rivers "is an observation of the external world as a surreal, romanticized setting in which the cycle of life is exemplified in the river, sea, rain, and ocean." READ this review.

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