Sea Poems

Now that a heat wave is covering the Eastern part of the U.S., thoughts and dreams as well as lucky bodies turn toward the ocean and its beaches. Here are a few poems and songs for the season.

Sail Away

Rabindranath Tagore

Early in the day it was whispered that we should sail in a boat,
only thou and I, and never a soul in the world would know of this our
pilgrimage to no country and to no end.

In that shoreless ocean,
at thy silently listening smile my songs would swell in melodies,
free as waves, free from all bondage of words.

Is the time not come yet?
Are there works still to do?
Lo, the evening has come down upon the shore
and in the fading light the seabirds come flying to their nests.

Who knows when the chains will be off,
and the boat, like the last glimmer of sunset,
vanish into the night?

Another, different poem/song with the refrain, Sail Away is “Orinoco Flow,” by Enya, but here is a Medieval version by Bardcore with places known in that era:

Then for a taste of the pirate in all (or many) of us:

Son of a Son of a Sailor

Jimmy Buffet

As the son of a son of a sailor
I went out on the sea for adventure
Expanding the view of the captain and crew
Like a man just released from indenture

As a dreamer of dreams and a travelin’ man
I have chalked up many a mile
Read dozens of books about heroes and crooks
And I learned much from both of their styles

Son of a son, son of a son
Son of a son of a sailor
Son of a gun, load the last ton
One step ahead of the jailer

Now away in the near future
Southeast of disorder
You can shake the hand of the mango man
As he greets you at the border

And the lady she hails from Trinidad
Island of the spices
Salt for your meat, and cinnamon sweet
And the rum is for all your good vices

Haul the sheet in as we ride on the wind
That our forefathers harnessed before us
Hear the bells ring as the tight rigging sings
It’s a son of a gun of a chorus

Where it all ends I can’t fathom my friends
If I knew I might toss out my anchor
So I cruise along always searchin’ for songs
Not a lawyer a thief or a banker

But a son of a son, son of a son
Son of a son of a sailor
Son of a gun, load the last ton
One step ahead of the jailer

I’m just a son of a son, son of a son
Son of a son of a sailor
The sea’s in my veins, my tradition remains
I’m just glad I don’t live in a trailer

Son of a Son of a Sailor lyrics © Coral Reefer Music

Jimmy Buffet (this version with the Zac Brown Band):

And now for a more serious side, the serious side of the sea and its power, it covers 70% of the planet.

“A Salty Dog” by Procol Harum

I was thinking of Stephen Crane’s famous short story, “The Open Boat,” which is available online to read for free, and how in his life I think he wanted to believe in heroes but often saw something else. In “The Open Boat” there were heroes. I wrote a fantasy in which he played an even larger part:

Sea Poem

Evening comes, channel bells toll, dozing, 
off the coast of Florida, he is dreaming,
dreaming down beneath the ship
where shadows breathe and surf echoes,
the ocean’s roar in a huge shell of coastline,
but the dream of dark and peaceful depths
is shredded by howling in a larger shell,
bell of the sky, and he rises to a shuddering deck
into slashing rain and great rolling waves,
and in the water men with outflung hands,
in the night they are all around,
bodies twined around with seesawing lights,
skeletons dancing, constellations exploding.
The ship is wrecked, will they all drown?

He jumps to the lifeboat, pulls a man to safety,
a fist of a wave knocks him overboard
and he collides with the body of another man,
he holds the wounded sailor, cradles his shoulders
in the rollicking surf, swimming at cross purposes
to the sea, battered by wind and waves,
he keeps the man in his grip
as ghosts hover, seahorses teem in the rain,
and the hours smash his body, moonlight flowers
until dawn breaks amber and green,
and they are plucked from the sea into the lifeboat
and safe but shaken the survivors hear the sea
speak in all the voices of the world,
connecting those adrift to those onshore.

From “The Open Boat,” by Stephen Crane

“When it came night, the white waves paced to and fro in the moonlight, and the wind brought the sound of the great sea’s voice to the men on shore, and they felt that they could then be interpreters.”

On January 2, 1897, American writer Stephen Crane survives the sinking of The Commodore off the coast of Florida. He will turn the harrowing event into his class short story, “The Open Boat” (1897).

And by Derek Walcott:

Midsummer, Tobago

Broad sun-stoned beaches.

White heat.
A green river.

A bridge,
scorched yellow palms

from the summer-sleeping house
drowsing through August.

Days I have held,
days I have lost,

days that outgrow, like daughters,
my harbouring arms. 

And by Lewis Carroll:

A Boat Beneath a Sunny Sky

A boat beneath a sunny sky,
Lingering onward dreamily
In an evening of July —

Children three that nestle near,
Eager eye and willing ear,
Pleased a simple tale to hear —

Long has paled that sunny sky:
Echoes fade and memories die:
Autumn frosts have slain July.

Still she haunts me, phantomwise,
Alice moving under skies
Never seen by waking eyes.

Children yet, the tale to hear,
Eager eye and willing ear,
Lovingly shall nestle near.

In a Wonderland they lie,
Dreaming as the days go by,
Dreaming as the summers die:

Ever drifting down the stream —
Lingering in the golden gleam —
Life, what is it but a dream?

8 thoughts on “Sea Poems

  1. I enjoyed your tribute to summer very much. I’ve always liked Enya’s “Sail Away.” The medieval rendition is just as good. And who can resist listening to Jimmy Buffet? Not I! I loved your poem. It’s so vivid and visceral.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Enjoyed the poems and songs, but I don’t “get” the Orinoco in the title of the first video clip. The only Orinoco I know of is a river in South America, but there’s no mention of it among all the places in the lyrics. What am I missing?

    Liked by 1 person

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