The Sea! The Sea!

Luis De Camoens, William Wordsworth, John Keats, Thomas Lovell Beddoes, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Robert Frost and Philippe Jaccottet. The Sea! The Sea! An Anthology of Poems. (2005). Edited by Peter Jay. London: Anvil Press Poetry. In association with the National Maritime Museum.

Luis De Camoens
On a Shipmate, Pero Moniz, Dying at Sea.
My years on ear were short, but long for me,
And full of bitter hardship at best:
My light of day sinks early in the sea:
Five lustres from my birth I took my rest.
Through distant lands and seas I was a ranger
Seeking some cure or remedy for life,
Which he whom Fortune loves not as a wife
Will seek in vain through strife, and toil, and danger.
Portugal reared me in my green, my darling
Alanguer, but the dank, corrupted air
That festers in the marshes around there
Has made me food for fish here in the snarling,
Fierce seas that dark the Abyssinian shore,
Far from the happy homeland I adore.
( Translated from the Portuguese by Roy Campbell )

William Wordsworth
With Ships the sea was sprinkled far and nigh’
With ships the sea was sprinkled far and nigh,
Like stars in heaven, and joyously it showed.
Some lying fast at anchor in the road,
Some veering up and down, one knew not why.
A goodly vessel did I then espy
Come like a giant from a haven broad;
And lustily along the bay she strode,
Her tackling rich and of apparel high.
This ship was nought to me, nor I to her,
Yet I pursued her with a lover’s look;
This ship to all the rest did I prefer:
When will she turn, and whither? She will brook
No tarrying; Where she comes the winds must stir:
On went she, and due north her journey took.

John Keats
Sonnet on the Sea
It keeps eternal whisperings around
Desolate shores, and with its mighty swell
Gluts twice ten thousand Caverns, till the spell
Of Hecate leaves them their old shadowy sound.
Often ’tis in such gentle temper found,
That scarcely will the very smallest shell
Be mov;d for days from where it sometime fell,
When last the winds of Heaven were unbound.
Oh ye! who have your eye-balls vex’d and tir’d,
Feast them upon the wideness of the sea;
Oh ye! whose ears are dined with uproar rude,
Or fed too much with cloying melody –
Sit ye near some old Cavern’s Mouth, and brood
Until ye start, as of the sea-nymphs quir’d!

Thomas Lovell Beddoes
Sailors’ Song
To sea, to sea! The calm is o’er;
The wanton water leaps in sport,
And rattles down the pebbly shore;
The dolphin wheels, the sea-cows snort,
And unseen Mermaids’ pearly song
Comes bubbling up, the weeds among.
Fling broad the sail, dip deep the oar:
To sea, to sea! the calm is o’er.
To sea, to sea! our wide-winged bark
Shall billowy cleave its sunny way,
And with its shadow, fleet and dark,
Break the caved Tritons’ azure day,
Like mighty eagle soaring light
O’er antelopes on Alpine height.
The anchor heaves, the ship swings free,
The sails swell full. To sea, to sea!

Gerard Manley Hopkins
I have desired to go
Where springs not fail,
To fields where flies no sharp and sided hail,
And a few lilies blow.
And I have asked to be
Where no storms come,
Where the green swell is in the havens dumb,
And out of the swing of the sea.

Robert Frost
Neither out Far Nor in Deep
The people along the sand
All turn and look one way.
They turn their back on the land.
They look at the sea all day.
As long as it takes to pass
A ship keeps raising its hull;
The wetter ground like glass
Reflects a standing gull
The land may vary more;
But wherever the truth may be-
The water comes ashore,
And the people look at the sea.
They cannot look out far.
They cannot look in deep.
But when was that ever a bar
To any watch they keep?

Philippe Jaccottet

The sea is dark again on my last night
but who or what am I calling upon tonight?
Aside from the echo there is nobody, nobody.
Beyond the crumbling rocks the iron-dark sea
booms in its bell of rain, and a bat flies
at the windows of the air in wild surprise.
My days, torn by its black wings, are in tatters;
the grandeur of these too-predictable waters
leaves me cold since I no longer know
how to communicate. Let the ‘fine days’ go!
I leave, an older man, what do I care,
the sea will slam its door on my departure.
Translated from French by Derek Mahon )



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