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Collected Poems

The Sea

The Sea


Now for many days I have not smelt the sea
passing in spring through a green land
walking in a dry land
in a soft place where is no death.
Far, far the strange and gleaming ocean
billowing on the rocks in blinding sunlight
far is the sea foam-bosomed titanic
and the rocks and the foam and the weeds the water sucks,
but still in this dry land I see
faint foaming seas and bloom upon the wave
in a windy twilight, still I hear its noise
as if my heart were a shell and I a child
listening, shell to ear.

Could I but wall myself in this dry world
of rolling plain low hills and trees and hedgerows,
walk by slow waters moving through the land
fall river-dreaming and forget the sea,
could I but close up my mind as an old maid locks her door
against the ravisher, the dreaded and desired,
could I but cultivate my garden
could I but move in a compact circle
as a wheel upon its pivot

but thought is a slow river that flows round
the mountain of the will and finds the sea.


I have ridden the surf with foam across my face
I have rolled like a warrior of old
down the sea-wind in my chariot of water.

I have lain in the sea at twilight
as in a bed heaped up with flowers
clothed in my robe of water like a king.

Lying on my belly on an old rotten wharf
I have watched the rippling green through a chink in the boards
and the world has slipped away like sand through the fingers.

page 151

And I have stood on a tall cliff and looked down
on the vast waters washing the edge of the world
and have not been afraid.

But all this was in youth when I had not known
distrust of solid rock
distrust of death by water and the resurrection
limbo of doubt interregnum of darkness.

If any man tell you he has conquered, call him a liar.


Lying in the sun beside the sea
the sky the huge hard bulging bum
of a metal kettledrum, the sea
hot parchment tightly stretched for the sticks
for the music of the sticks that is withheld
pending a revelation that lies
womb-bound in heavy silence

lying in the sun with my belly on the hot rock
the rock a cross where hangs a body limp
in agony immune from life and death
in deep damnation drinking in the sun
sucking the strength and vigour from the sun
the fire of life that breeds revolt anew
the gladiator fed with milk and truffles
wine and good meat to stiffen bone and sinew
prolonging the bloody strife

I am neither sea nor rock but living flesh
I can swim but not as a fish swims
I have fear and the knowledge of opposites.
And so, to seize
that fiery ardour of the sun,
contain it in the mind, and lend it to the will,
subdue the waves with thought?
The revelation hangs in silence.

Or to plunge in and let the limbs
move gently, held in balance of two forces,
to have firm faith the fixed assurance
that through the broken rhythm of the waves
there flows the deeper rhythm of the Wave
page 152 a strong unchanging everlasting thing
whose pattern lies in heaven?
After the heat of life the calm of death,
after the journey the lover's arms,
after the dry rock and the blistering sun
the cool hands of the sea, the melting in water.
To each his element,
fire for the lover, air for the ghost,
and water for the stubborn, the estranged of God.

The revelation comes not. Lies, all lies.

I cried: I will rope in the sun,
drive him in triumph across the open heavens
holding the fiery reins with blistered fingers,
then shall I be myself, redeemed or damned.
I stood irresolute.

The sun went down behind the hill,
the sea grew pale, bewitched me with a semblance
of something I had seen once in a dream
or in the sweet sloth of my mother's womb.
I plunged, and drowned.