Patterns on the shore

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The voice of the sea is seductive; never ceasing, whispering, clamoring, murmuring, inviting the soul to wander for a spell in abysses of solitude [...] The voice of the sea speaks to the soul.

Kate Chopin, The Awakening (1899)

I took this shot on Chesterman Beach, near Tofino on Vancouver Island. The Pacific Coast of Vancouver Island can be serene, as on the day I took the photograph, or mysterious when (as it often is in Summer) cloaked in fog, or wild (local hotels offer storm watching breaks in the winter months).

Chopin is one of many writers who have described the sea’s strangely magnetic force. Shores are evocative, liminal places that invite contemplation, as Chopin so acutely, and beautifully describes.

Another writer interested in shores whose work I have recently read is H.D. (Hilda Doolittle). Here is one of the most famous poems from her typically enigmatic volume, Sea Garden:

I
THE HARD sand breaks,
And the grains of it
Are clear as wine.

Far off over the leagues of it,
The wind,
Playing on the wide shore,
Piles little ridges,
And the great waves
Break over it.

But more than the many-foamed ways
Of the sea,
I know him
Of the triple path-ways,
Hermes,
Who awaiteth.

Dubious,
Facing three ways,
Welcoming wayfarers,
He whom the sea-orchard
Shelters from the west,
From the east
Weathers sea-wind;
Fronts the great dunes.

Wind rushes
Over the dunes,
And the coarse, salt-crusted grass
Answers.

Heu,
It whips round my ankles!

II
Small is
This white stream,
Flowing below ground
From the poplar-shaded hill,
But the water is sweet.

Apples on the small trees
Are hard,
Too small,
Too late ripened
By a desperate sun
That struggles through sea-mist.

The boughs of the trees
Are twisted
By many bafflings;
Twisted are
The small-leafed boughs.

But the shadow of them
Is not the shadow of the mast head
Nor of the torn sails.

Hermes, Hermes,
The great sea foamed,
Gnashed its teeth about me;
But you have waited,
Where sea-grass tangles with
Shore-grass.

H.D., ‘Hermes of the ways’ (1917)

For me, this poem evokes both vulnerability and exhilaration, the beauty of things that by necessity must grow tough living on the edge, whether they be apple trees or people.

Do you have a favourite poem of the shore?

10 thoughts on “Patterns on the shore

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