Water Symbolism

Symbolism of Water in Literature

Water as symbolism in literature is used as a repetitive theme in literature. Water represents a multitude of concepts and especially symbolizes the concepts of life, purification, and transformation. Water’s fluid nature and ability to flow and adapt make it a symbol of change and renewal. According to mythological stories and religious manuscripts, water symbolizes creation and the divine, serving as a metaphor for spiritual rebirth. Additionally, water can be used as a reflection for displaying the depths of human emotions like calmness, serenity, instability, and chaos. Water is also associated with cleansing and purification rituals in Christianity as well as Hinduism, such as baptism ceremonies and taking a dip in the Ganges river. The word ‘water’ comes from the Old English word “wæter,” which is derived from the Proto-Germanic term ‘watar’.


Water in dreams symbolizes emotions. Dreaming of muddy water represents struggles in life and negativity, and clear water represents clarity about life. In dreams traveling across water symbolizes self-confidence and mental health. According to the Bible, dreaming of water symbolizes purity and rebirth, which is also represented through baptism. In a dream, falling into Water represents the insecurities in career and relationships. Drinking water in dreams is considered as good wealth and success. Dreaming about the running water symbolizes a change in life and movement. Also, if a person dreams about boiling water symbolizes anger, fear, and extreme-level emotions.


In Ancient Greeks mythology, Water symbolizes power. In Hindu culture, the river Ganga or Ganges represents mystical power because the Ganges river flows through the knot on the head of Lord Shiva. In the Judaeo-Christian beliefs, water is considered a sentimental intensity power within people.


In Western culture, water is considered an emotional release from critical situations, often related to tears and drowning in water. Ancient Egyptians believed water had the power to purity the soul and provide spiritual rebirth. Native Americans consider water is a symbol of emotional understanding and healing. In Buddhism, water symbolizes transformation and cleansing. In Hinduism, water is a symbol of purity and truth. According to the Bible, Christians believe water represents life, renewal, and change. Additionally, they believe Jesus’ divine power is associated with water. Muslims also consider water symbolizes purity and cleansing to approach God as they perform a daily cleansing ritual called Vazoo before offering prayers. In Judaism, they believe water is cleansing for ritualism before every major event.


Universally, water symbolizes purity, life, motion, renewal, and transformation. In Hinduism, water symbolizes physical and spiritual well-being by achieving purity. In Hinduism, people believe the river Ganges purifies their souls; hence they dip themselves to perform spiritual purification. Water in Christianity represents rebirth and purity.


Water symbolizes life and is the driving force behind every human civilization. Native American tribes believe water symbolizes the purification of life. Egyptians considered the Nile River is the symbol of life because the Nile River provides water and the main resources to survive in desert areas. In Islam, water symbolizes life. As per Quran, god gifted water to living beings to survive on Earth. In Hinduism, water is the most vital element that sustains life on earth. In pop culture, some of the short films made on the symbolism of water and universal unity are Karunannada Bhikkhu, about the Buddhist Monk, Sri Sujon Chakraboti is about a Hindu priest, Friar Lintu Francis da Costa, about a Christian priest, and Imam Mohiuddin Rasel is about a Muslim priest. These films also represent water as life and show how water is used for ritual purposes.

Chaos and destruction

In Ancient Egyptian mythology, water represents chaos in the form of the primary ocean. According to Rigveda in Indian mythology, water symbolizes night or Chaos. Ancient Romans believed water meant chaos because water is an unforced mass. In Judeo-Christianity, water represents confusion and chaos due to Noah’s flood that destroyed the world. According to Hawaiian tradition, as the earth is surrounded by water, it symbolizes chaos as well as darkness. Also, in Christianity, water symbolizes transformation, purification, and destruction.

Wisdom and Grace

In the Taoist tradition, water represents wisdom because of its resistant nature. Water is the life force given to the spirit and body, signifying wisdom and conscious awareness. In Christianity, water symbolizes divine wisdom. According to Vedic tradition, water represents wisdom, as narrated in the Upanishads. Also, based on astrology, Pisces is shown as a water element representing wisdom. The otter symbolizes grace because it loves to live in water only. According to Norse mythology’s Prose Edda, water is described as the source of wisdom. That’s why Odin sacrifices his eye in exchange for supernatural wisdom from the waters of the Mimisbrunnr.

Examples of Water as Symbolism in Literature

Example #1

Water By Ralph Waldo Emerson

The water understands
Civilization well;
It wets my foot, but prettily,
It chills my life, but wittily,
It is not disconcerted,
It is not broken-hearted:
Well used, it decketh joy,
Adorneth, doubleth joy:
Ill used, it will destroy,
In perfect time and measure
With a face of golden pleasure
Elegantly destroy.

Here the water is personified and symbolizes balance, life, and destruction.

Example #2

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (text of 1834) By Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.

Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.

The very deep did rot: O Christ!
That ever this should be!
Yea, slimy things did crawl with legs
Upon the slimy sea.

In this example, the water is a symbol of hopelessness and isolation.

Example #3

The Lake Isle of Innisfree By William Butler Yeats

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

In this example from a famous poem, water is a symbol of new beginnings, hope and life.

Example #4

I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud By William Wordsworth

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

In this example, the water represents joy, celebration and happiness.

Example #5

The Brook Poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson

I murmur under moon and stars
In brambly wildernesses;
I linger by my shingly bars;
I loiter round my cresses;

And out again I curve and flow
To join the brimming river,
For men may come and men may go,
But I go on for ever.

This example is taken from the poem The Brook. Here the water is a symbol continuity, perseverance, and journey.

Example #6

Sand and Foam by Kahlil Gibran

In one drop of water are found all the secrets of all the oceans.

Here water drop is a symbol of mystery and curiosity.

Example #7

Out of the Dust By Karen Hesse

Water, in all its forms, is the key to life. Without it, there would be no vegetation, no animals, no us.

In this quote, the water represents life’s source and dependability.

Example #8

The Penelopiad By Margaret Atwood

Water does not resist. Water flows. When you plunge your hand into it, all you feel is a caress.

In this example, water is a symbol of love, affection and voyage.

Example #9

Tao Te Ching By Lao Tzu

Water is the softest thing, yet it can penetrate mountains and earth. This shows clearly the principle of softness overcoming hardness.

Here the water means gentleness, courage, and adventure.

Example #10

Necropolis By Mehmet Murat ildan

Water is the most perfect traveller because when it travels, it becomes the path itself!

In this example, water is a symbol of patience and bravery.