The Water Diviner

By Dannie Abse 1923–2014 Dannie Abse
Late, I have come to a parched land   
doubting my gift, if gift I have,   
the inspiration of water
spilt, swallowed in the sand.

To hear once more water trickle,   
to stand in a stretch of silence
the divining pen twisting in the hand:   
sign of depths alluvial.

Water owns no permanent shape,   
sags, is most itself descending;
now, under the shadow of the idol,   
dry mouth and dry landscape.

No rain falls with a refreshing sound   
to settle tubular in a well,
elliptical in a bowl. No grape
lusciously moulds it round.

Clouds have no constant resemblance   
to anything, blown by a hot wind,   
flying mirages; the blue background,   
light constructions of chance.

To hold back chaos I transformed   
amorphous mass—and fire and cloud—   
so that the agèd gods might dance   
and golden structures form.

I should have built, plain brick on brick,   
a water tower. The sun flies on
arid wastes, barren hells too warm   
and me with a hazel stick!

Rivulets vanished in the dust
long ago, great compositions
vaporized, salt on the tongue so thick   
that drinking, still I thirst.

Repeated desert, recurring drought,   
sometimes hearing water trickle,   
sometimes not, I, by doubting first,   
believe; believing, doubt.

Dannie Abse, “The Water Diviner” from New and Collected Poems, published by Hutchinson. Used by permission of The Random House Group Limited,

Source: White Coat Purple Coat: Collected Poems 1948-1988 (1994)

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet Dannie Abse 1923–2014


Subjects Religion, Nature, Faith & Doubt

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza

 Dannie  Abse


The title of Dannie Abse’s collected poems, White Coat, Purple Coat (1989), refers to his lifelong professions of physician and poet. Of these careers, Abse has stated, “I like to think I’m a poet and Medicine my serious hobby.”

Considered one of the most important Welsh writers of the past century, Abse was born in Cardiff, Wales, to non-Welsh-speaking parents, but lived mostly in London. His poetry collections include . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Religion, Nature, Faith & Doubt


Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza

Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.