Poetry of the Sea: Part 3
They that go down to the sea in ships, and occupy their business in great waters. These men see the works of the Lord; and his wonders in the deep…
— Psalm 107
Some of the English language’s finest poetry has been written about the sea. Here’s four more of my favourites, some are excerpts due to length. This is the final post on sea poetry for the time being – thank you for all your posts and emails about sea poetry that has touched you in some way! And a doffed cap to Irwin Bryan for reminding me of The Wanderer’s Song.
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The Wreck of the Deutschland by Gerald Hopkins
- She drove in the dark to leeward,
She struck — not a reef or a rock
But the combs of a smother of sand: night drew her
Dead to the Kentish Knock;
And she beat the bank down with her bows and the ride of her keel:
The breakers rolled on her beam with ruinous shock;
And canvas and compass, the whorl and the wheel
Idle for ever to waft her or wind her with, these she endured.
The Wanderer’s Song by Masefield
- A wind’s in the heart of me, a fire’s in my heels,
I am tired of brick and stone and rumbling wagon-wheels;
I hunger for the sea’s edge, limit of the land,
Where the wild old Atlantic is shouting on the sand.
Oh I’ll be going, leaving the noises of the street,
To where a lifting foresail-foot is yanking at the sheet;
To a windy, tossing anchorage where yards and ketches ride,
Oh I’ll be going, going, until I meet the tide.
The clucking, sucking of the sea about the rusty hulls,
The songs at the capstan at the hooker warping out,
And then the heart of me’ll know I’m there or thereabout.
Oh I am sick of brick and stone, the heart of me is sick,
For windy green, unquiet sea, the realm of Moby Dick;
And I’ll be going, going, from the roaring of the wheels,
For a wind’s in the heart of me, a fire’s in my heels
Wreck of the Hesperus by Henry Longfellow
- And ever the fitful gusts between
A sound came from the land;
It was the sound of the trampling surf,
On the rocks and hard sea-sand.
The breakers were right beneath her bows,
She drifted a dreary wreck,
And a whooping billow swept the crew
Like icicles from her deck.
She struck where the white and fleecy waves
Looked soft as carded wool,
But the cruel rocks, they gored her side
Like the horns of an angry bull.
Her rattling shrouds, all sheathed in ice,
With the masts went by the board;
Like a vessel of glass, she stove and sank,
Ho! ho! the breakers roared!
Song of Myself by Walt Whitman
- You sea! I resign myself to you also – I guess what you mean,
I behold from the beach your crooked inviting fingers,
I believe you refuse to go back without feeling of me,
We must have a turn together, I undress, hurry me out of sight of the land,
Cushion me soft, rock me in billowy drowse,
Dash me with amorous wet, I can repay you. Sea of stretch’d ground-swells,
Sea breathing broad and convulsive breaths,
Sea of the brine of life and of unshovell’d yet always-ready graves, Howler and scooper of storms, capricious and dainty sea,
I am integral with you, I too am of one phase and of all phases. Partaker of influx and efflux I, extoller of hate and conciliation,
Extoller of armies and those that sleep in each others’ arms.
Longfellow image: Julia Margaret Cameron [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons; Whitman image: By George C. Cox (1851–1903, photo) Adam Cuerden (1979-, restoration) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
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