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Niederland, W.G. (1956). River Symbolism—Part I. Psychoanal Q., 25:469-504.

(1956). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 25:469-504

River Symbolism—Part I

William G. Niederland, M.D.

Almost every day during the summer months, a lively scene takes place in a children's playground in Central Park, New York. The children, mostly boys and girls between the ages of two and six, cluster around a drinking fountain there; they drink the water, splash it, pour it on their bodies, hold their hands in it, sprinkle it over the ground, themselves, and each other, catch it in little pails, take it to a sandbox some distance away and return to the fountain, coming and going, running, laughing, splashing, dripping, and always pushing close to the fountain. The swings, seesaws, and other attractions of the playground may be deserted; the area around the fountain rarely is. A mother who watches the children in the playground says, 'They go wild as soon as they see the fountain'. The reason is not solely the heat of a summer day as the same scene may be observed on relatively cool days, too.

A boy sixteen months old is taken to a seaside resort for the first time in his life. The parents sit with him on the sandy beach a hundred yards from the shore. From where they sit the water can hardly be seen, but the roar of the waves is heard in the distance. Soon the child bestirs himself, gets up from his reclining position, looks in the direction of the water and starts running, apparently oblivious of everything else, toward the sea. When he reaches it, he runs straight into the water requiring restraint from going in deeper. With expressions of joy and happiness, he plays with the waves, laughing, shouting, clasping his hands and rocking his body eagerly and incessantly. Refusing to leave the water, he has to be carried out of it.

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