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American poet Emily Dickinson once said of poetry: “If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can warm me I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.” (quoted in The Atlantic magazine, ‘Emily Dickinson’s Letters‘). The following sea poems may well induce the same effect. Together they speak of the joy and pain of the seafaring life in simple but heartfelt language. The last poem, Seaside, is a bit enigmatic. The narrator could be a retired mariner or the poet himself whose memories are stoked by “the old unquiet ocean.”

Song from the Ship

by Thomas Lovell Beddoes (English, 1803 – 1849)

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!


At Sea

by Algernon Charles Swinburne (English, 1837 – 1909)

‘Farewell and adieu’ was the burden prevailing
Long since in the chant of a home-faring crew;
And the heart in us echoes, with laughing or wailing,
Farewell and adieu.

Each year that we live shall we sing it anew,
With a water untravelled before us for sailing
And a water behind us that wrecks may bestrew.

The stars of the past and the beacons are paling,
The heavens and the waters are hoarier of hue:
But the heart in us chants not an all unavailing
Farewell and adieu.


The Dream Of Home

by Thomas Moore (Irish, 1779 – 1852)

Who has not felt how sadly sweet
The dream of home, the dream of home,
Steals o’er the heart, too soon to fleet,
When far o’er sea or land we roam?
Sunlight more soft may o’er us fall,
To greener shores our bark may come;
But far more bright, more dear than all,
That dream of home, that dream of home.

Ask the sailor youth when far
His light bark bounds o’er ocean’s foam,
What charms him most, when evening’s star
Smiles o’er the wave? to dream of home.
Fond thoughts of absent friends and loves
At that sweet hour around him come;
His heart’s best joy where’er he roves,
That dream of home, that dream of home.

The ocean said to me once

by Stephen Crane (American, 1871 – 1900)

The ocean said to me once,
Yonder on the shore
Is a woman, weeping.
I have watched her.
Go you and tell her this —
Her lover I have laid
In cool green hall.
There is wealth of golden sand
And pillars, coral-red;
Two white fish stand guard at his bier.

“Tell her this
And more —
That the king of the seas
Weeps too, old, helpless man.
The bustling fates
Heap his hands with corpses
Until he stands like a child
With a surplus of toys.”


by Rupert Brooke (English, 1887 – 1915)

Swiftly out from the friendly lilt of the band,
The crowd’s good laughter, the loved eyes of men,
I am drawn nightward; I must turn again
Where, down beyond the low untrodden strand,
There curves and glimmers outward to the unknown
The old unquiet ocean. All the shade
Is rife with magic and movement. I stray alone
Here on the edge of silence, half afraid,

Waiting a sign. In the deep heart of me
The sullen waters swell towards the moon,
And all my tides set seaward.
From inland
Leaps a gay fragment of some mocking tune,
That tinkles and laughs and fades along the sand,
And dies between the seawall and the sea.

NOTE: Marine Café Blog has a number of sea-related literarary works that you can freely download. Click here to see what is available so far. More books will be added as part of the blog’s efforts to promote the love of reading amongst seafarers.

~ Barista Uno

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