The Poet and the Sea and Shore


O sea! day and night I wend thy surf-beat shore,
Imaging to my sense thy varied strange suggestions.

I fled down to the shores of the water, the salt weeds exposed at low water,
Delicate sniffs of sea-breeze,  the sniff of the shore and dark-color’d sea-rocks,
The fragrance of saltmarsh and shoremud,
The briny and damp smell of sedgy grass and fields by the shore.
I like the smell of the salt and sedge along the water,
I perceive that the sedgy weed has refreshing odors, perfume delightful to my nostrils

I wander’d alone over the beach, miles walking,
The sound of breaking waves the other side of me,
I could listen forever to the hoarse music of the surf,
It is what I was born to
—I was born and brought up near the sea.

As I walked the beach,
As I wended the shores I know,
As I walk’d where the ripples continually wash,

Throwing myself on the sand—
I throw myself upon your breast so broad, with open arms,
O firm, expanded shore, my father,
Kiss me my father,
I cling to you so that you cannot unloose me,
I hold you so firm till you answer me something.

Through fog on a sea-coast I heard, dolefully ringing,
An ocean-bell—O a warning bell, rock’d by the waves,
The mournful notes foreboding a tempest.
O you give good notice indeed, you bell by the sea-reefs ringing,
Ringing, ringing, to warn the ship from its wreck-place.

On floats the wind over the breast of the sea setting in toward land,
The great steady wind, floating so buoyant, tossing the waves, with milk-white foam on the waters.
I watch’d with joy the threatening maws of the waves,
I mark’d the milk-white combs where they career’d so high, curling over,

Spirits of foam flying far, and the free whistle, and the scent of the salt,
The beach cut by the razory ice-wind.

While the winds fann’d me and the waves came trooping toward me,
A succession of splendid and magnificent thunderstorms.
O howler and scooper of storms!
Rage, boil, vex, yawn wide, yeasty waves—crash away!
Crash heavier, heavier yet!

You oceans that have been calm within me!
How I feel you, fathomless, stirring, preparing unprecedented waves and storms,
O storm, embodied, rising, careering with swift steps along the beach!
I can but rush to the surf and let it drench me and freeze upon me.
What is this that frees me so in storms?
What do my shouts amid lightnings and raging winds mean?

I heard the continuous thunder as it bellow’d after the lightning,
The roar of the gale, with incessant undertone muttering,

The waves slowly rolling in, with a hoarse roar that is music to my ears,
That ceaseless, sulking, guttural of the sea as if to me its wrongs and toils in confidence.
Blow up sea-winds! Blow! blow! blow!
Breathe to me while I hold you close the secret of the murmuring I envy,
Of you O tides, the mystic human meaning.

As the ocean so mysterious rolls toward me closer and closer,
The fierce old mother endlessly cries for her castaways,
With angry moans the fierce old mother incessantly moaning,
Some drown’d secret hissing—
O give me the clue! a word then, (for I will conquer it,)
The word final, superior to all,
Subtle, sent up—what is it?—I listen;
Are you whispering it, and have been all the time, you sea-waves?
Is that it from your liquid rims and wet sands?

Whereto answering, the sea of unshovelled and always-ready graves,
Delaying not, hurrying not,
Whisper’d me through the night, and very plainly before daybreak,
Lisp’d to me the key, the word up from the waves,
The low and delicious word death.

And again I heard over the waves the little voice:
Death, death, death,
death,
Edging near as privately for me rustling at my feet,
Creeping thence steadily up to my ears and laving me softly all over,
Death, death, death, death, 
death—
That strong and delicious word which, creeping to my feet,
(Or like some old crone rocking the cradle, swathed in sweet garments, bending aside,)
The sea whisper’d me.

I sail’d through the storm, I was refresh’d by the storm,
I thrill’d with the power’s pulsations,
Till the tissues that held me parted their ties upon me.
O storms! you have done me good,
O superb! O wild as my heart, and powerful!
The tale of cosmic elemental passion,
Thou tellest to a kindred soul,
A phantom in the night thy confidant for once.

Ease not your moaning you fierce old mother,
Endlessly cry for your castaways,
But do you wait a moment you husky-nois’d sea, fear not, deny not me,
Rustle not up so hoarse and angry against my feet as I touch you or gather from you.

Confronting the waves to splash the water,
I wade with naked feet along the beach just in the edge of the water,
Walk barefoot in the edge of the water, ankle-deep,
Or race naked along the shore.
I hear the soothing, rumbling murmuring of the waves,
The hissing melodious rustle of the liquid and sands as directed to me,

Edging near as privately for me rustling at my feet,
Whispering to congratulate me.

You sea! I resign myself to you—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;
Bathing in this pure, clear, salt water is one of my best pleasures,
A splendid swim and souse in the surf.

High and clear my voice over the waves:
This is no cheat, the liquid wash of the sea,
This transparent green-wash of the sea which is so amorous after me,
It is safe to strip the clothes from my body to meet my lover the sea,
Allow it to lick my naked body all over with its tongues,
And be refreshed by storms, immensity, liberty, action.

Capricious and dainty sea! I am integral with you,
Does the tide hurry, seeking something, and never give up? O I the same.
Cushion me soft, rock me in billowy drowse,
Dash me with amorous wet, the souse upon me of my lover the sea, as I lie, willing and naked,
O yearnful waves! the kisses of your lips!

The attractions, fascinations there are in sea and shore!
As I sit here on a clump of sand by the sea shore,
From the sea of time collecting, vasting all,
I bring a windrow-drift of weeds and shells.
O little shells, so curious-convolute! so limpid-cold and voiceless!
Will you not little shells to the tympans of temples held,
Murmurs and echoes still call up, whisper’d reverberations,
Eternity’s music faint and far, chords for the ear joyously sounding?

As the shores of the sea I live near and love are to me,
So are the shores of all the seas of the earth to those who live near and love them.
A hundred years hence, or ever so many hundred years hence,
Others will enjoy the pouring-in of the scallop-edg’d waves of the flood-tide,
The falling back to the sea of the ebb-tide—
Ebb, ocean of life, the flow will return.

From where I sit I look out, hours enjoying it, for it suits me.
Behold, the lines of hills and mountains, far, far away, a little veiled with blue vapor,
The sea itself,
And on its limitless, heaving breast, the ships.

I behold the sail and steamships of the world on their voyages,
Sail-ships and steam-ships threading the archipelagoes.
How they sail, vessels silently sailing in every direction in the distance,
See, where their white sails, bellying in the wind, speckle the green and blue,
See, the steamers coming and going,
See, dusky and undulating, the long pennants of smoke.
It is a beautiful thing to see the vessels,
countless ships,
Mighty hulls dark-gliding in the distance,
Moving swiftly surrounded by myriads of small craft,

Sometimes a hundred or more all in sight at once, moving so gracefully on the water.

Or some lone bark buoy’d on the dense marine,
Where joyous full of faith, spreading white sails,
Spreading all sails, carrying even her moonsails,
She cleaves the ether mid the sparkle and the foam of day, she cuts the sparkle and scud—
Or under many a star at night.

A chant for the sailors of all nations:
I behold the mariners of the world,
Sea-captains young or old, and the mates, and all intrepid sailors,
Suckled by thee, old husky nurse, thou sea that unitest nations,
Embodying thee, indomitable, untamed as thee.
Some are in storms, some in the night with the watch on the lookout,
Some drifting helplessly, some with contagious diseases;
Breezes of land and love set from living shores to you on the living sea, to you O sailors!

O to sail in a ship under full sail at sea,
To escape, to sail forth in a
ship,
(I bend at her prow or shout joyously from the deck,)

To leave this steady unendurable land,
To leave the tiresome sameness of the streets, the sidewalks, and the houses,
To leave you, O you solid motionless land, and entering a ship,
To sail and sail and sail!

O to be on the sea! the wind, the wide waters around,
Copious the islands beyond, thick as stars in the sky,
The little and large sea-dots, some inhabited, some uninhabited.
To be a sailor of the world bound for all ports,
Sailing henceforth to every land, to every sea,
The sailor that sails the sea stormier, vaster than any,
Swarthy, strong, ugly, and nonchalant.

To be a ship itself, (see indeed the restless keel, these sails I spread to the sun and air,)
To stretch with stretched and level waters, as a ship on the waters advancing,
To sail
out over the measureless seas,
The superior oceans and the inferior ones,
Like a sufficiently splendid solitary ship by itself,
On the soul’s 
voyage.

Lo, soul, to thee, thy sight, they rise,
The plans, the voyages again, the expeditions.
To glide with thee O soul—the immortal ship! ship aboard the ship!
Gliding o’er all, through all,
Through nature, time, and space—there is space enough—
A swift and swelling ship full of joys, sailing and ever sailing—
Ship of the body, ship of the soul, voyaging, voyaging, voyaging,
Consort to every ship that sails,

Saluting, cheerily hailing each mate, met or pass’d, little or big,
For companionship and good will forever to all and each.

NEXT: Rivers and Streams