What Does a River Symbolize?

By Staff WriterLast Updated Mar 29, 2020 12:14:40 AM ET

The river is typically used to symbolize the power of nature. A river is also often used as a symbol of fertility, as it fills the soil surrounding it with moisture. The river is also used as a symbol of the passage of time.


The symbolism of the river is centered around its nature as a moving body of water. Moving water is able to find its way through nearly any kind of physical impediment until it merges with the ocean. A river's movement has also led it to being used as a symbol of life. In literature as in life, cities and towns often spring up on riverbanks, seemingly brought to life by the river's movement. The source of the river, typically small mountain streams, depicts the beginnings of life and its meeting with the ocean symbolizes the end of life.

In literature, the river is also used both as a sign of boundaries and of roadways. As a boundary, the river is sometimes used to show the difference between civilization and those outside of it. The river, in particular the Amazon or the Congo River, has also been used as a symbolic passageway into the heart of the jungle and as a descent into the primitive nature of humanity.