What is it about beaches that inspires so much art and poetry? Is it the heady mixture of sea breeze, salt water and warm sand that makes human emotions rise up and rush in like the tide? Is it the brief encounter with eternity as one stands alone by the sea?

Whatever the reason, I hope that the following works of art and poems would delight and inspire you. I selected the images (from hundreds of artworks ) which I felt would complement the subject matter and tone of the featured poems.

Étretat: The Beach and the Falaise d’Amont, 1885
Claude Monet (French, 1840–1926)
Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago

Down on the Shore

by William Allingham (Irish, 1824–1889)

Down on the shore, on the sunny shore!
Where the salt smell cheers the land;
Where the tide moves bright under boundless light,
And the surge on the glittering strand;
Where the children wade in the shallow pools,
Or run from the froth in play;
Where the swift little boats with milk-white wings
Are crossing the sapphire bay,
And the ship in full sail, with a fortunate gale,
Holds proudy on her way;

Where the nets are spread on the grass to dry,
And asleep, hard by, the fishermen lie,
Under the tent of the warm blue sky,
With the hushing wave on its golden floor
To sing their lullaby.

Down on the shore, on the stormy shore!
Beset by a growling sea,
Whose mad waves leap on the rocky steep
Like wolves up a traveller’s tree;

Where the foam flies wide, and an angry blast
Blows the curlew off, with a screech;
Where the brown sea-wrack, torn up by the roots,
Is flung out of fishes’ reach;
And the tall ship rolls on the hidden shoals,
And scatters her planks on the beach;
Where slate and straw through the village spin,
And a cottage fronts the fiercest din
With a sailor’s wife sitting sad within,
Hearkening the wind and the water’s roar,
Till at last her tears begin.

Woman on the beach of Ruegen, c. 1818
Caspar David Friedrich (1774–1840)
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Lassitude

by Mathilde Blind (English, German-born, 1841– 1896)

I laid me down beside the sea,
Endless in blue monotony;
The clouds were anchored in the sky.
Sometimes a sail went idling by.

Upon the shingles on the beach
Grey linen was spread out to bleach,
And gently with a gentle swell
The languid ripples rose and fell.

A fisher-boy, in level line,
Cast stone by stone into the brine:
Methought I too might do as he,
And cast my sorrows on the sea.

The old, old sorrows in a heap
Dropped heavily into the deep;
But with its sorrow on that day
My heart itself was cast away.

Bailey’s Beach, Newport, R.I., 1901
Childe Hassam (American, 1859 – 1935)
Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago

Sea Song

By Katherine Mansfield (New Zealander, 1888 -1923)

I will think no more of the sea!
Of the big green waves
And the hollowedshore,
Of the brown rock caves
No more, no more
Of the swell and the weed
And the bubbling foam.

Memory dwells in my far away home,
She has nothing to do with me.

She is old and bent
With a pack
On her back.
Her tears all spent,
Her voice, just a crack.
With an old thorn stick
She hobbles along,
And a crazy song
Now slow, now quick,
Wheeks in her throat.

And every day
While there’s light on the shore
She searches for something;
Her withered claw
Tumbles the seaweed;
She pokes in each shell
Groping and mumbling
Until the night
Deepens and darkens,
And covers her quite,
And bids her be silent,
And bids her be still.

The ghostly feet
Of the whispery waves
Tiptoe beside her.

Young Woman on the Beach, 1896
Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago

Ebb Tide

by Sara Teasdale (American, 1884–1933)

When the long day goes by
And I do not see your face,
The old wild, restless sorrow
Steals from its hiding place.

My day is barren and broken,
Bereft of light and song,
A sea beach bleak and windy
That moans the whole day long.

To the empty beach at ebb tide,
Bare with its rocks and scars,
Come back like the sea with singing,
And light of a million stars.

Swimmers, Jávea, 1905
Joaquín Sorolla (Spanish, 1863–1923)
Courtesy of the Google Cultural Institute – Google Art Project.

It’s Great When You Get In

by Eugene O’Neill (American, 1888–1953)

They told me the water was lovely,
That I ought to go for a swim,
The air was maybe a trifle cool,
“You won’t mind it when you get in”
So I journeyed cheerfully beach-ward,
And nobody put me wise,
But everyone boosted my courage
With an earful of jovial lies.

The Sound looked cold and clammy,
The water seemed chilly and gray,
But I hastened into my bathing suit
And floundered into the spray.
Believe me, the moment I touched it
I realized then and there,
That the fretful sea was not meant for me
But fixed for a polar bear.

I didn’t swim for distance
I didn’t do the crawl,
(They asked why I failed to reach the raft,
And I told them to hire a hall.)
But I girded my icy garments
Round my quaking limbs so blue,
And I beat it back to the bath house
To warm up for an age or two.

I felt like a frozen mummy
In an icy winding sheet.
It took me over an hour
To calm my chattering teeth.
And I sympathized with Peary,
I wept for Amundsen’s woes,
As I tried to awaken some life in
My still unconscious toes.

So be warned by my example
And shun the flowing sea,
When the chill winds of September
Blow sad and drearily.
Heed not the tempters’ chatter
Pass them the skeptics’ grin
For the greatest bull that a boob can pull
Is “It’s great when you get in.”

A bunch of boys out in the sun-sparkling sea, 1892
Peder Severin Kroyer (Danish, 1851–1909)
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons (sourced from Bruun Rasmussen)

The Beach

by Robert Graves (Britiish, 1895–1985)

Louder than gulls the little children scream
Whom fathers haul into the jovial foam;
But others fearlessly rush in, breast high,
Laughing the salty water from their mouthes—
Heroes of the nursery.

The horny boatman, who has seen whales
And flying fishes, who has sailed as far
As Demerara and the Ivory Coast,
Will warn them, when they crowd to hear his tales,
That every ocean smells of tar.

Le Crépuscule (Twilght), 1891
Henry Wolf (American, born France, 1852–1916)
Courtesy of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

Dover Beach

by Matthew Arnold (English, 1822–1888)

The sea is calm to-night.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; – on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanch’d land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,

At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the {AE}gean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,

Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furl’d.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

Beach Scene, c. 1869
Winslow Homer (American, 1836–1910)
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

On the Seashore

by Rabindranath Tagore (Indian, 1861–1941)

On the seashore of endless worlds children meet.
The infinite sky is motionless overhead and the restless water is boisterous. On the seashore of endless worlds the children meet with shouts and dances.
They build their houses with sand, and they play with empty shells. With withered leaves they weave their boats and smilingly float them on the vast deep. Children have their play on the seashore of worlds.
They know not how to swim, they know not how to cast nets. Pearl-fishers dive for pearls, merchants sail in their ships, while children gather pebbles and scatter them again. They seek not for hidden treasures, they know not how to cast nets.
The sea surges up with laughter, and pale gleams the smile of the sea-beach. Death-dealing waves sing meaningless ballads to the children, even like a mother while rocking her baby’s cradle. The sea plays with children, and pale gleams the smile of the sea-beach.
On the seashore of endless worlds children meet. Tempest roams in the pathless sky, ships are wrecked in the trackless water, death is abroad and children play. On the seashore of endless worlds is the great meeting of children.

~ Barista Uno

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