57 Greatest Poems about the Sea

Sometimes, when difficulties at home, relationships, and internal conflicts occurred at a time, we also need to let off steam and loosen up. Relaxing is somewhat easy when the surrounding is amiable and pleasant.

As for me, I always prefer to go to the beach. Nothing can beat a stroll with the sound of the waves echoing in my ear. The wind lightly brushes my long hair. The sunshine lightly gratifies my eyes, as well as the scenery of the green mountains on the opposite island. When I am submerged by the beauty of nature will always be the best time for me. It feels like my whole body is floating on a calm sea where I don’t need to worry about anything else.

These are fifty-seven (57) greatest poems about the sea. If you are also fond of the sea and find peace whenever you go near it, these poems are for you.

Keep reading!

By The Sea

Beside an ebbing northern sea
While stars awaken one by one,
We walk together, I and he.

He woos me with an easy grace
That proves him only half sincere;
A light smile flickers on his face.

To him love-making is an art,
And as a flutist plays a flute,
So does he play upon his heart

A music varied to his whim.
He has no use for love of mine,
He would not have me answer him.

To hide my eyes within the night
I watch the changeful lighthouse gleam
Alternately with red and white.

My laughter smites upon my ears,
So one who cries and wakes from sleep
Knows not it is himself he hears.

What if my voice should let him know
The mocking words were all a sham,
And lips that laugh could tremble so?

What if I lost the power to lie,
And he should only hear his name
In one low, broken cry?

Sara Teasdale

The Sea

Behold the Sea,
The opaline, the plentiful and strong,
Yet beautiful as is the rose in June,
Fresh as the trickling rainbow of July:
Sea full of food, the nourisher of kinds,
Purger of earth, and medicine of men;
Creating a sweet climate by my breath,
Washing out harms and griefs from memory,
And, in my mathematic ebb and flow,
Giving a hint of that which changes not.
Rich are the sea-gods:—who gives gifts but they?
They grope the sea for pearls, but more than pearls:
They pluck Force thence, and give it to the wise.
For every wave is wealth to Dædalus,
Wealth to the cunning artist who can work
This matchless strength. Where shall he find, O waves!
A load your Atlas shoulders cannot lift?
I with my hammer pounding evermore
The rocky coast, smite Andes into dust,
Strewing my bed, and, in another age,
Rebuild a continent of better men.
Then I unbar the doors: my paths lead out
The exodus of nations: I disperse
Men to all shores that front the hoary main.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

The Sea

From “Childe Harold,” Canto IV.

There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society where none intrudes
By the deep sea, and music in its roar:
I love not man the less, but nature more,
From these our interviews, in which I steal
From all I may be, or have been before,
To mingle with the universe, and feel
What I can ne’er express, yet cannot all conceal.

Roll on, thou deep and dark blue Ocean,—roll!
Ten thousand fleets sweep over thee in vain;
Man marks the earth with ruin,—his control
Stops with the shore;—upon the watery plain
The wrecks are all thy deed, nor doth remain
A shadow of man’s ravage, save his own,
When, for a moment, like a drop of rain,
He sinks into thy depths with bubbling groan,
Without a grave, unknelled, uncoffined, and unknown.

His steps are not upon thy paths,—thy fields
Are not a spoil for him,—thou dost arise
And shake him from thee; the vile strength he wields
For earth’s destruction thou dost all despise,
Spurning him from thy bosom to the skies,
And send’st him, shivering in thy playful spray
And howling, to his gods, where haply lies
His petty hope in some near port or bay,
And dashest him again to earth:—there let him lay.

The armaments which thunderstrike the walls
Of rock-built cities, bidding nations quake
And monarchs tremble in their capitals,
The oak leviathans, whose huge ribs make
Their clay creator the vain title take
Of lord of thee and arbiter of war,—
These are thy toys, and, as the snowy flake,
They melt into thy yeast of waves, which mar
Alike the Armada’s pride or spoils of Trafalgar.

Thy shores are empires, changed in all save thee;
Assyria, Greece, Rome, Carthage, what are they?
Thy waters wasted them while they were free,
And many a tyrant since; their shores obey
The stranger, slave, or savage; their decay
Has dried up realms to deserts: not so thou;
Unchangeable save to thy wild waves’ play,
Time writes no wrinkles on thine azure brow;
Such as creation’s dawn beheld, thou rollest now.

Thou glorious mirror, where the Almighty’s form
Glasses itself in tempests; in all time,
Calm or convulsed,—in breeze, or gale, or storm,
Icing the pole, or in the torrid clime
Dark-heaving; boundless, endless, and sublime,
The image of Eternity,—the throne
Of the Invisible! even from out thy slime
The monsters of the deep are made; each zone
Obeys thee; thou goest forth, dread, fathomless, alone.

And I have loved thee, Ocean! and my joy
Of youthful sports was on thy breast to be
Borne, like thy bubbles, onward; from a boy
I wantoned with thy breakers,—they to me
Were a delight; and if the freshening sea
Made them a terror, ’t was a pleasing fear;
For I was as it were a child of thee,
And trusted to thy billows far and near,
And laid my hand upon thy mane,—as I do here.

Lord Byron

The Sea

Beautiful, sublime, and glorious;
Mild, majestic, foaming, free,—
Over time itself victorious,
Image of eternity!

Sun and moon and stars shine o’er thee,
See thy surface ebb and flow,
Yet attempt not to explore thee
In thy soundless depths below.

Whether morning’s splendors steep thee
With the rainbow’s glowing grace,
Tempests rouse, or navies sweep thee,
’T is but for a moment’s space.

Earth,—her valleys and her mountains,
Mortal man’s behests obey;
The unfathomable fountains
Scoff his search and scorn his sway.

Such art thou, stupendous Ocean!
But, if overwhelmed by thee,
Can we think, without emotion,
What must thy Creator be?

Bernard Barton

By the Sea

The caves of the sea have been troubled to-day
With the water which whitens, and widens, and fills;
And a boat with our brother was driven away
By a wind that came down from the tops of the hills.
Behold I have seen on the threshold again
A face in a dazzle of hair!
Do you know that she watches the rain, and the main,
And the waves which are moaning there?
Ah, moaning and moaning there!

Now turn from your casements, and fasten your doors,
And cover your faces, and pray, if you can;
There are wails in the wind, there are sighs on the shores,
And alas, for the fate of a storm-beaten man!
Oh, dark falls the night on the rain-rutted verge,
So sad with the sound of the foam!
Oh, wild is the sweep and the swirl of the surge;
And his boat may never come home!
Ah, never and never come home!

By Henry Kendall


From “The Course of Time,” Book I.

Great Ocean! strongest of creation’s sons,
Unconquerable, unreposed, untired,
That rolled the wild, profound, eternal bass
In nature’s anthem, and made music such
As pleased the ear of God! original,
Unmarred, unfaded work of Deity!
And unburlesqued by mortal’s puny skill;
From age to age enduring, and unchanged,
Majestical, inimitable, vast,
Loud uttering satire, day and night, on each
Succeeding race, and little pompous work
Of man; unfallen, religious, holy sea!
Thou bowedest thy glorious head to none, fearedst none,
Heardst none, to none didst honor, but to God
Thy Maker, only worthy to receive
Thy great obeisance.

Robert Pollok

The Sea

The sea! the sea! the open sea!
The blue, the fresh, the ever free!
Without a mark, without a bound,
It runneth the earth’s wide regions round;
It plays with the clouds; it mocks the skies;
Or like a cradled creature lies.

I ’m on the sea! I ’m on the sea!
I am where I would ever be;
With the blue above, and the blue below,
And silence wheresoe’er I go;
If a storm should come and wake the deep,
What matter? I shall ride and sleep.

I love, O, how I love to ride
On the fierce, foaming, bursting tide,
When every mad wave drowns the moon,
Or whistles aloft his tempest tune,
And tells how goeth the world below,
And why the sou’west blasts do blow.

I never was on the dull, tame shore,
But I loved the great sea more and more,
And backwards flew to her billowy breast,
Like a bird that seeketh its mother’s nest;
And a mother she was, and is, to me;
For I was born on the open sea!

The waves were white, and red the morn,
In the noisy hour when I was born;
And the whale it whistled, the porpoise rolled,
And the dolphins bared their backs of gold;
And never was heard such an outcry wild
As welcomed to life the ocean child!

I ’ve lived since then, in calm and strife,
Full fifty summers, a sailor’s life,
With wealth to spend and a power to range,
But never have sought nor sighed for change;
And Death, whenever he comes to me,
Shall come on the wild, unbounded sea!

Bryan Waller Procter (Barry Cornwall)

Address to the Ocean

O thou vast Ocean! ever-sounding Sea!
Thou symbol of a drear immensity!
Thou thing that windest round the solid world
Like a huge animal, which, downward hurled
From the black clouds, lies weltering and alone,
Lashing and writhing till its strength be gone!
Thy voice is like the thunder, and thy sleep
Is as a giant’s slumber, loud and deep.
Thou speakest in the east and in the west
At once, and on thy heavily laden breast
Fleets come and go, and shapes that have no life
Or motion, yet are moved and meet in strife.
The earth has naught of this: no chance or change
Ruffles its surface, and no spirits dare
Give answer to the tempest-wakened air;
But o’er its wastes the weakly tenants range
At will, and wound its bosom as they go:
Ever the same, it hath no ebb, no flow:
But in their stated rounds the seasons come,
And pass like visions to their wonted home;
And come again, and vanish; the young Spring
Looks ever bright with leaves and blossoming;
And Winter always winds his sullen horn,
When the wild Autumn, with a look forlorn,
Dies in his stormy manhood; and the skies
Weep, and flowers sicken, when the summer flies.
O, wonderful thou art, great element,
And fearful in thy spleeny humors bent,
And lovely in repose! thy summer form
Is beautiful, and when thy silver waves
Make music in earth’s dark and winding caves,
I love to wander on thy pebbled beach,
Marking the sunlight at the evening hour,
And hearken to the thoughts thy waters teach,—
Eternity—Eternity—and Power.

Bryan Waller Procter (Barry Cornwall)

By The Sea.

I started early, took my dog,
And visited the sea;
The mermaids in the basement
Came out to look at me,

And frigates in the upper floor
Extended hempen hands,
Presuming me to be a mouse
Aground, upon the sands.

But no man moved me till the tide
Went past my simple shoe,
And past my apron and my belt,
And past my bodice too,

And made as he would eat me up
As wholly as a dew
Upon a dandelion’s sleeve —
And then I started too.

And he — he followed close behind;
I felt his silver heel
Upon my ankle, — then my shoes
Would overflow with pearl.

Until we met the solid town,
No man he seemed to know;
And bowing with a mighty look
At me, the sea withdrew.

By Emily Elizabeth Dickinson

The Gravedigger

Oh, the shambling sea is a sexton old,
And well his work is done.
With an equal grave for lord and knave,
He buries them every one.

Then hoy and rip, with a rolling hip,
He makes for the nearest shore;
And God, who sent him a thousand ship,
Will send him a thousand more;
But some he ’ll save for a bleaching grave,
And shoulder them in to shore,—
Shoulder them in, shoulder them in,
Shoulder them in to shore.

Oh, the ships of Greece and the ships of Tyre
Went out, and where are they?
In the port they made, they are delayed
With the ships of yesterday.

He followed the ships of England far,
As the ships of long ago;
And the ships of France they led him a dance,
But he laid them all arow.

Oh, a loafing, idle lubber to him
Is the sexton of the town;
For sure and swift, with a guiding lift,
He shovels the dead men down.

But though he delves so fierce and grim,
His honest graves are wide,
As well they know who sleep below
The dredge of the deepest tide.

Oh, he works with a rollicking stave at lip,
And loud is the chorus skirled;
With the burly note of his rumbling throat
He batters it down the world.

He learned it once in his father’s house,
Where the ballads of eld were sung;
And merry enough is the burden rough,
But no man knows the tongue.

Oh, fair they say, was his bride to see,
And wilful she must have been,
That she could bide at his gruesome side
When the first red dawn came in.

And sweet, they say, is her kiss to those
She greets to his border home;
And softer than sleep her hand’s first sweep
That beckons, and they come.

Oh, crooked is he, but strong enough
To handle the tallest mast;
From the royal barque to the slaver dark,
He buries them all at last.

Then hoy and rip, with a rolling hip,
He makes for the nearest shore;
And God, who sent him a thousand ship,
Will send him a thousand more;

But some he ’ll save for a bleaching grave,
And shoulder them in to shore,—
Shoulder them in, shoulder them in,
Shoulder them in to shore.

Bliss Carman

The Treasures of the Deep

What hid’st thou in thy treasure-caves and cells?
Thou hollow-sounding and mysterious main!—
Pale glistening pearls and rainbow-colored shells,
Bright things which gleam unrecked of and in vain!—
Keep, keep thy riches, melancholy sea!
We ask not such from thee.

Yet more, the depths have more!—what wealth untold,
Far down, and shining through their stillness lies!
Thou hast the starry gems, the burning gold,
Won from ten thousand royal argosies!—
Sweep o’er thy spoils, thou wild and wrathful main!
Earth claims not these again.

Yet more, the depths have more!—thy waves have rolled
Above the cities of a world gone by!
Sand hath filled up the palaces of old,
Sea-weed o’ergrown the halls of revelry.
Dash o’er them, Ocean, in thy scornful play!
Man yields them to decay.

Yet more, the billows and the depths have more!
High hearts and brave are gathered to thy breast!
They hear not now the booming waters roar,
The battle-thunders will not break their rest.—
Keep thy red gold and gems, thou stormy grave!
Give back the true and brave!

Give back the lost and lovely!—those for whom
The place was kept at board and hearth so long!
The prayer went up through midnight’s breathless gloom,
And the vain yearning woke midst festal song!
Hold fast thy buried isles, thy towers o’erthrown,—
But all is not thine own.

To thee the love of woman hath gone down,
Dark flow thy tides o’er manhood’s noble head,
O’er youth’s bright locks, and beauty’s flowery crown;
Yet must thou hear a voice,—Restore the dead!
Earth shall reclaim her precious things from thee!—
Restore the dead, thou sea!

Felicia Dorothea Hemans

Flotsam and Jetsam

THE SEA crashed over the grim gray rocks,
It thundered beneath the height,
It swept by reef and sandy dune,
It glittered beneath the harvest moon,
That bathed it in yellow light.

Shell, and sea-weed, and sparkling stone,
It flung on the golden sand.
Strange relics torn from its deepest caves,
Sad trophies of wild victorious waves,
It scattered upon the strand.

Spars that had looked so strong and true,
At many a gallant launch,
Shattered and broken, flung to the shore,
While the tide in its wild triumphant roar
Rang a dirge for the vessel stanch.

Petty trifles that lovers had brought
From many a foreign clime,
Snatched by the storm from the clinging clasp
Of hands that the lonely will never grasp,
While the world yet measures time.

Back, back to its depths went the ebbing tide,
Leaving its stores to rest,
Unsought and unseen in the silent bay,
To be gathered again, ere close of day,
To the ocean’s mighty breast.

Kinder than man art thou, O sea;
Frankly we give our best,
Truth, and hope, and love, and faith,
Devotion that challenges time and death
Its sterling worth to test.

We fling them down at our darling’s feet,
Indifference leaves them there.
The careless footstep turns aside,
Weariness, changefulness, scorn, or pride,
Bring little of thought or care.

No tide of human feeling turns;
Once ebbed, love never flows;
The pitiful wreckage of time and strife,
The flotsam and jetsam of human life,
No saving reflux knows.


A Forsaken Garden

In a coign of the cliff between lowland and highland,
At the sea-down’s edge between windward and lee,
Walled round with rocks as an inland island,
The ghost of a garden fronts the sea.
A girdle of brushwood and thorn encloses
The steep, square slope of the blossomless bed
Where the weeds that grew green from the graves of its roses
Now lie dead.

The fields fall southward, abrupt and broken,
To the low last edge of the long lone land.
If a step should sound or a word be spoken,
Would a ghost not rise at the strange guest’s hand?
So long have the gray, bare walks lain guestless,
Through branches and briers if a man make way,
He shall find no life but the sea-wind’s, restless
Night and day.

The dense, hard passage is blind and stifled
That crawls by a track none turn to climb
To the strait waste place that the years have rifled
Of all but the thorns that are touched not of Time.
The thorns he spares when the rose is taken;
The rocks are left when he wastes the plain.
The wind that wanders, the weeds wind-shaken,
These remain.

Not a flower to be pressed of the foot that falls not;
As the heart of a dead man the seed-plots are dry;
From the thicket of thorns whence the nightingale calls not,
Could she call, there were never a rose to reply.
Over the meadows that blossom and wither
Rings but the note of a sea-bird’s song;
Only the sun and the rain come hither
All year long.

The sun burns sere and the rain dishevels
One gaunt bleak blossom of scentless breath.
Only the wind here hovers and revels
In a round where life seems barren as death.
Here there was laughing of old, there was weeping,
Haply, of lovers none ever will know,
Whose eyes went seaward a hundred sleeping
Years ago.

Heart handfast in heart as they stood, “Look thither,”
Did he whisper? “Look forth from the flowers to the sea;
For the foam-flowers endure when the rose-blossoms wither,
And men that love lightly may die—but we?”
And the same wind sang and the same waves whitened,
And or ever the garden’s last petals were shed,
In the lips that had whispered, the eyes that had lightened,
Love was dead.

Or they loved their life through, and then went whither?
And were one to the end—but what end who knows?
Love deep as the sea as a rose must wither,
As the rose-red seaweed that mocks the rose.
Shall the dead take thought for the dead to love them?
What love was ever as deep as a grave?
They are loveless now as the grass above them
Or the wave.

All are at one now, roses and lovers,
Not known of the cliffs and the fields and the sea.
Not a breath of the time that has been hovers
In the air now soft with a summer to be.
Not a breath shall there sweeten the seasons hereafter
Of the flowers or the lovers that laugh now or weep,
When, as they that are free now of weeping and laughter,
We shall sleep.

Here death may deal not again forever;
Here change may come not till all change end.
From the graves they have made they shall rise up never,
Who have left nought living to ravage and rend.
Earth, stones, and thorns of the wild ground growing,
While the sun and the rain live, these shall be;
Till a last wind’s breath upon all these blowing
Roll the sea.

Till the slow sea rise and the sheer cliff crumble,
Till terrace and meadow the deep gulfs drink,
Till the strength of the waves of the high tides humble
The fields that lessen, the rocks that shrink,
Here now in his triumph where all things falter,
Stretched out on the spoils that his own hand spread,
As a god self-slain on his own strange altar,
Death lies dead.

Algernon Charles Swinburne

By the Sea.

I am longing to dwell by the sea,
And dip in the surf every day,
And – height of subaqueous glee –
With the sharks and the porpoises play.

To novelty ever inclined –
Instead of a calm evening sail,
‘Twould suit my adventurous mind
To ride on the back of a whale.

I want to disport on the rocks
Like a mythical mermaiden belle,
And comb out my watery locks,
Then dive to my cavernous cell.

I want to discover what lends
Such terror to all timid folks –
That serpent whose mystery tends
To make one believe it a hoax.

They say he’s been captured at last;
The news is too good to be true –
He’s slippery, cunning, and fast,
And likes notoriety too.

Once had I such longings to be
A sailor – those wishes are o’er,
But ever in dreams of the sea
My horoscope rests on the shore.

Oh, give me a home by the sea –
A cottage, a cabin, a tent!
Existence should ecstasy be
Till summer were joyfully spent.

Hattie Howard


A weary weed, tossed to and fro,
Drearily drenched in the ocean brine,
Soaring high and sinking low,
Lashed along without will of mine;
Sport of the spume of the surging sea;
Flung on the foam, afar and anear,
Mark my manifold mystery,—
Growth and grace in their place appear.

I bear round berries, gray and red,
Rootless and rover though I be;
My spangled leaves, when nicely spread,
Arboresce as a trunkless tree;
Corals curious coat me o’er,
White and hard in apt array;
Mid the wild waves’ rude uproar
Gracefully grow I, night and day.

Hearts there are on the sounding shore,
Something whispers soft to me,
Restless and roaming forevermore,
Like this weary weed of the sea;
Bear they yet on each beating breast
The eternal type of the wondrous whole,
Growth unfolding amidst unrest,
Grace informing with silent soul.

Cornelius George Fenner


When descends on the Atlantic
The gigantic
Storm-wind of the equinox,
Landward in his wrath he scourges
The toiling surges,
Laden with sea-weed from the rocks:

From Bermuda’s reefs; from edges
Of sunken ledges,
In some far-off, bright Azore;
From Bahama, and the dashing,
Silver flashing
Surges of San Salvador;

From the tumbling surf, that buries
The Orkneyan skerries,
Answering the hoarse Hebrides;
And from wrecks of ships, and drifting
Spars, uplifting
On the desolate, rainy seas;—

Ever drifting, drifting, drifting
On the shifting
Currents of the restless main;
Till in sheltered coves, and reaches
Of sandy beaches,
All have found repose again.

So when storms of wild emotion
Strike the ocean
Of the poet’s soul, erelong,
From each cave and rocky fastness
In its vastness,
Floats some fragment of a song:

From the far-off isles enchanted
Heaven has planted
With the golden fruit of Truth;
From the flashing surf, whose vision
Gleams Elysian
In the tropic clime of Youth;

From the strong Will, and the Endeavor
That forever
Wrestles with the tides of Fate;
From the wreck of Hopes far-scattered,
Floating waste and desolate;—

Ever drifting, drifting, drifting
On the shifting
Currents of the restless heart;
Till at length in books recorded,
They, like hoarded
Household words, no more depart.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The Coral Insect

Toil on! toil on! ye ephemeral train,
Who build in the tossing and treacherous main;
Toil on! for the wisdom of man ye mock,
With your sand-based structure and domes of rock,
Your columns the fathomless fountains’ cave,
And your arches spring up to the crested wave;
Ye ’re a puny race thus to boldly rear
A fabric so vast in a realm so drear.

Ye bind the deep with your secret zone,—
The ocean is sealed, and the surge a stone;
Fresh wreaths from the coral pavement spring,
Like the terraced pride of Assyria’s king;
The turf looks green where the breakers rolled;
O’er the whirlpool ripens the rind of gold;
The sea-snatched isle is the home of men,
And mountains exult where the wave hath been.

But why do ye plant, ’neath the billows dark,
The wrecking reef for the gallant bark?
There are snares enough on the tented field,
Mid the blossomed sweets that the valleys yield;
There are serpents to coil ere the flowers are up,
There ’s a poison drop in man’s purest cup.
There are foes that watch for his cradle breath,
And why need ye sow the floods with death?

With mouldering bones the deeps are white,
From the ice-clad pole to the tropics bright;
The mermaid hath twisted her fingers cold
With the mesh of the sea-boy’s curls of gold,
And the gods of the ocean have frowned to see
The mariner’s bed in their halls of glee;
Hath earth no graves, that ye thus must spread
The boundless sea for the thronging dead?

Ye build—ye build—but ye enter not in,
Like the tribes whom the desert devoured in their sin;
From the land of promise ye fade and die
Ere its verdure gleams forth on your weary eye:
As the kings of the cloud-crowned pyramid,
Their noiseless bones in oblivion hid,
Ye slumber unmarked mid the desolate main,
While the wonder and pride of your works remain.

Lydia Huntley Sigourney

The Coral Reef

From “The Pelican Island”

Every one,
By instinct taught, performed its little task,—
To build its dwelling and its sepulchre,
From its own essence exquisitely modelled;
There breed, and die, and leave a progeny,
Still multiplied beyond the reach of numbers,
To frame new cells and tombs; then breed and die
As all their ancestors had done,—and rest,
Hermetically sealed, each in its shrine,
A statue in this temple of oblivion!
Millions of millions thus, from age to age,
With simplest skill and toil unweariable,
No moment and no movement unimproved,
Laid line on line, on terrace terrace spread,
To swell the heightening, brightening, gradual mound,
By marvellous structure climbing towards the day.

*        *        *        *        *
A point at first
It peered above those waves; a point so small
I just perceived it, fixed where all was floating;
And when a bubble crossed it, the blue film
Expanded like a sky above the speck;
That speck became a hand-breadth; day and night
It spread, accumulated, and erelong
Presented to my view a dazzling plain,
White as the moon amid the sapphire sea;
Bare at low water, and as still as death,
But when the tide came gurgling o’er the surface
’T was like a resurrection of the dead:
From graves innumerable, punctures fine
In the close coral, capillary swarms
Of reptiles, horrent as Medusa’s snakes,
Covered the bald-pate reef;

*        *        *        *        *
Erelong the reef o’ertopt the spring-flood’s height,
And mocked the billows when they leapt upon it,
Unable to maintain their slippery hold,
And falling down in foam-wreaths round its verge.
Steep were the flanks, with precipices sharp,
Descending to their base in ocean gloom.
Chasms few and narrow and irregular
Formed harbors, safe at once and perilous,—
Safe for defence, but perilous to enter.
A sea-lake shone amidst the fossil isle,
Reflecting in a ring its cliffs and caverns,
With heaven itself seen like a lake below.

James Montgomery

By The Sea.

Why does the sea moan evermore?
Shut out from heaven it makes its moan.
It frets against the boundary shore;
All earth’s full rivers cannot fill
The sea, that drinking thirsteth still.

Sheer miracles of loveliness
Lie hid in its unlooked-on bed:
Anemones, salt, passionless,
Blow flower-like; just enough alive
To blow and multiply and thrive.

Shells quaint with curve, or spot, or spike,
Encrusted live things argus-eyed,
All fair alike, yet all unlike,
Are born without a pang, and die
Without a pang, – and so pass by.

Christina Georgina Rossetti

The Chambered Nautilus

This is the ship of pearl, which, poets feign,
Sails the unshadowed main,—
The venturous bark that flings
On the sweet summer wind its purpled wings
In gulfs enchanted, where the Siren sings,
And coral reefs lie bare,
Where the cold sea-maids rise to sun their streaming hair.

Its webs of living gauze no more unfurl;
Wrecked is the ship of pearl!
And every chambered cell,
Where its dim dreaming life was wont to dwell,
As the frail tenant shaped his growing shell,
Before thee lies revealed,—
Its irised ceiling rent, its sunless crypt unsealed!

Year after year beheld the silent toil
That spread his lustrous coil;
Still, as the spiral grew,
He left the past year’s dwelling for the new,
Stole with soft step its shining archway through,
Built up its idle door,
Stretched in his last-found home, and knew the old no more.

Thanks for the heavenly message brought by thee,
Child of the wandering sea,
Cast from her lap, forlorn!
From thy dead lips a clearer note is born
Than ever Triton blew from wreathèd horn!
While on mine ear it rings,
Through the deep caves of thought I hear a voice that sings:—

Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul,
As the swift seasons roll!
Leave thy low-vaulted past!
Let each new temple, nobler than the last,
Shut thee from heaven with a dome more vast,
Till thou at length art free,
Leaving thine outgrown shell by life’s unresting sea!

Oliver Wendell Holmes

“A wet sheet and a flowing sea”

A Wet sheet and a flowing sea,—
A wind that follows fast,
And fills the white and rustling sail,
And bends the gallant mast,—
And bends the gallant mast, my boys,
While, like the eagle free,
Away the good ship flies, and leaves
Old England on the lee.

O for a soft and gentle wind!
I heard a fair one cry;
But give to me the snoring breeze
And white waves heaving high,—
And white waves heaving high, my boys,
The good ship tight and free;
The world of waters is our home,
And merry men are we.

There ’s tempest in yon hornèd moon,
And lightning in yon cloud;
And hark the music, mariners!
The wind is piping loud,—
The wind is piping loud, my boys,
The lightning flashing free;
While the hollow oak our palace is,
Our heritage the sea.

Allan Cunningham

Song of the Emigrants in Bermuda

Where the remote Bermudas ride
In the ocean’s bosom unespied,
From a small boat that rowed along
The listening winds received this song:
“What should we do but sing His praise
That led us through the watery maze
Where he the huge sea monsters wracks,
That lift the deep upon their backs,
Unto an isle so long unknown,
And yet far kinder than our own?
He lands us on a grassy stage,
Safe from the storms, and prelate’s rage;
He gave us this eternal spring
Which here enamels everything,
And sends the fowls to us in care
On daily visits through the air.
He hangs in shades the orange bright
Like golden lamps in a green night.
And does in the pomegranates close
Jewels more rich than Ormus shows:
He makes the figs our mouths to meet,
And throws the melons at our feet;
But apples, plants of such a price,
No tree could ever bear them twice.
With cedars chosen by his hand
From Lebanon he stores the land;
And makes the hollow seas that roar
Proclaim the ambergris on shore.
He cast (of which we rather boast)
The Gospel’s pearl upon our coast;
And in these rocks for us did frame
A temple where to sound his name.
O, let our voice his praise exalt
Till it arrive at heaven’s vault,
Which then perhaps rebounding may
Echo beyond the Mexique bay!”—
Thus sung they in the English boat
A holy and a cheerful note;
And all the way, to guide their chime,
With falling oars they kept the time.

Andrew Marvell

My Brigantine

From “The Water Witch”

Just in thy mould and beauteous in thy form,
Gentle in roll and buoyant on the surge,
Light as the sea-fowl rocking in the storm,
In breeze and gale thy onward course we urge,
My water-queen!
Lady of mine,
More light and swift than thou none thread the sea
With surer keel or steadier on its path,
We brave each waste of ocean-mystery
And laugh to hear the howling tempest’s wrath,
For we are thine.
My brigantine!
Trust to the mystic power that points thy way,
Trust to the eye that pierces from afar;
Trust the red meteors that around thee play,
And, fearless, trust the Sea-Green Lady’s star,
Thou bark divine!

James Fenimore Cooper

By The Sea-Shore At Night.

Oh lapping waves!–oh gnawing waves!–
That rest not day nor night,–
I hear ye when the light
Is dim and awful in your hollow caves.–

All day the winds were out, and rode
Their steeds, your tossing crest,–
To-night the fierce winds rest,
And the moon walks above them her bright road.

Yet none the less ye lift your hands,
And your despairing cry
Up to the midnight sky,
And clutch, and trample on the shuddering sands,

That shrink and tremble even in sleep,
Out of your passionate reach,
Afraid of your dread speech,
And the more dreadful silence that ye keep

Oh sapping waves!–oh mining waves!–
Under the oak’s gnarled feet,
And tower, and village street,
Scooping by stealth in darkness myriad graves;–

What secret strive ye thus to hide,
A thousand fathoms deep,
Which the sea will not keep,
And pours, and babbles forth upon her refluent tide?–

I see your torn and wind-blown hair,
Shewn far along the shore,–
And lifted evermore
You white hands tossing in a fierce despair;

And half I deem ye hold below,
In vast and wandering cell,
The primal spirits who fell,
Reserved in chains and immemorial woe.

Keep ye, oh waves!–your mystery:–
The time draws on apace,
When from before His face,
The heavens and the earth shall flee,
And evermore there shall be no more sea!

By Kate Seymour Maclean

The Heaving of the Lead

FOR England when with favoring gale
Our gallant ship up channel steered,
And, scudding under easy sail,
The high blue western land appeared;
To heave the lead the seaman sprung,
And to the pilot cheerly sung,
“By the deep—nine!”

And bearing up to gain the port,
Some well-known object kept in view,—
An abbey-tower, a harbor-fort,
Or beacon to the vessel true;
While oft the lead the seaman flung,
And to the pilot cheerly sung,
“By the mark—seven!”

And as the much-loved shore we near,
With transport we behold the roof
Where dwelt a friend or partner dear,
Of faith and love a matchless proof.
The lead once more the seaman flung,
And to the watchful pilot sung,
“Quarter less—five!”

Now to her berth the ship draws nigh:
We shorten sail,—she feels the tide,—
“Stand clear the cable” is the cry,—
The anchor ’s gone; we safely ride.
The watch is set, and through the night
We hear the seamen with delight
Proclaim,—“All ’s well!”

Charles Dibdin

The Minute-Gun

When in the storm on Albion’s coast,
The night-watch guards his weary post,
From thoughts of danger free,
He marks some vessel’s dusky form,
And hears, amid the howling storm,
The minute-gun at sea.

Swift on the shore a hardy few
The life-boat man with a gallant crew
And dare the dangerous wave;
Through the wild surf they cleave their way,
Lost in the foam, nor know dismay,
For they go the crew to save.

But O, what rapture fills each breast
Of the hopeless crew of the ship distressed!
Then, landed safe, what joy to tell
Of all the dangers that befell!
Then is heard no more,
By the watch on shore,
The minute-gun at sea.

R. S. Sharpe

All ’s Well

From “The British Fleet”

Deserted by the waning moon,
When skies proclaim night’s cheerless noon,
On tower, or fort, or tented ground
The sentry walks his lonely round;
And should a footstep haply stray
Where caution marks the guarded way,
“Who goes there? Stranger, quickly tell!”
“A friend!” “The word?” “Good-night;” all ’s well.

Or, sailing on the midnight deep,
When weary messmates soundly sleep,
The careful watch patrols the deck,
To guard the ship from foes or wreck;
And while his thoughts oft homewards veer,
Some friendly voice salutes his ear,—
“What cheer? Brother, quickly tell;
Above,—below.” Good-night; all ’s well.

Thomas Dibdin

The Bay of Biscay

Loud roared the dreadful thunder,
The rain a deluge showers,
The clouds were rent asunder
By lightning’s vivid powers;
The night both drear and dark,
Our poor devoted bark,
Till next day, there she lay,
In the Bay of Biscay, O!

Now dashed upon the billow,
Her opening timbers creak,
Each fears a watery pillow,
None stops the dreadful leak;
To cling to slippery shrouds
Each breathless seaman crowds,
As she lay, till the day,
In the Bay of Biscay, O!

At length the wished-for morrow
Broke through the hazy sky,
Absorbed in silent sorrow,
Each heaved a bitter sigh;
The dismal wreck to view
Struck horror to the crew,
As she lay, on that day,
In the Bay of Biscay, O!

Her yielding timbers sever,
Her pitchy seams are rent,
When Heaven, all bounteous ever,
Its boundless mercy sent,—
A sail in sight appears!
We hail her with three cheers;
Now we sail, with the gale,
From the Bay of Biscay, O!

Andrew Cherry

Tom Bowling

Here, a sheer hulk, lies poor Tom Bowling,
The darling of our crew;
No more he ’ll hear the tempest howling,
For death has broached him to.
His form was of the manliest beauty, 5
His heart was kind and soft;
Faithful, below, he did his duty;
But now he ’s gone aloft.

Tom never from his word departed,
His virtues were so rare,
His friends were many and true-hearted,
His Poll was kind and fair:
And then he ’d sing, so blithe and jolly,
Ah, many ’s the time and oft!
But mirth is turned to melancholy,
For Tom is gone aloft.

Yet shall poor Tom find pleasant weather,
When He who all commands
Shall give, to call life’s crew together,
The word to “pipe all hands.”
Thus Death, who kings and tars despatches,
In vain Tom’s life has doffed;
For though his body ’s under hatches,
His soul has gone aloft.

Charles Dibdin

By The Seaside

The sun is couched, the sea-fowl gone to rest,
And the wild storm hath somewhere found a nest;
Air slumbers–wave with wave no longer strives,
Only a heaving of the deep survives,
A tell-tale motion! soon will it be laid,
And by the tide alone the water swayed.
Stealthy withdrawings, interminglings mild
Of light with shade in beauty reconciled–
Such is the prospect far as sight can range,
The soothing recompence, the welcome change.

Where, now, the ships that drove before the blast,
Threatened by angry breakers as they passed;
And by a train of flying clouds bemocked;
Or, in the hollow surge, at anchor rocked
As on a bed of death? Some lodge in peace,
Saved by His care who bade the tempest cease;
And some, too heedless of past danger, court
Fresh gales to waft them to the far-off port
But near, or hanging sea and sky between,
Not one of all those winged powers is seen,

Seen in her course, nor ‘mid this quiet heard;
Yet oh! how gladly would the air be stirred
By some acknowledgment of thanks and praise,
Soft in its temper as those vesper lays
Sung to the Virgin while accordant oars
Urge the slow bark along Calabrian shores;
A sea-born service through the mountains felt
Till into one loved vision all things melt:
Or like those hymns that soothe with graver sound
The gulfy coast of Norway iron-bound;
And, from the wide and open Baltic, rise
With punctual care, Lutherian harmonies.
Hush, not a voice is here! but why repine,
Now when the star of eve comes forth to shine
On British waters with that look benign?
Ye mariners, that plough your onward way,
Or in the haven rest, or sheltering bay,
May silent thanks at least to God be given
With a full heart; “our thoughts are ‘heard’ in heaven.”

By William Wordsworth

“Ye Mariners of England”

Ye mariners of England!
That guard our native seas;
Whose flag has braved, a thousand years,
The battle and the breeze!
Your glorious standard launch again
To match another foe!
And sweep through the deep,
While the stormy winds do blow;
While the battle rages loud and long,
And the stormy winds do blow.

The spirits of your fathers
Shall start from every wave!—
For the deck it was their field of fame,
And ocean was their grave:
Where Blake and mighty Nelson fell,
Your manly hearts shall glow,
As ye sweep through the deep,
While the stormy winds do blow;
While the battle rages loud and long,
And the stormy winds do blow.

Britannia needs no bulwarks,
No towers along the steep;
Her march is o’er the mountain-waves,
Her home is on the deep.
With thunders from her native oak,
She quells the floods below,—
As they roar on the shore,
When the stormy winds do blow;
When the battle rages loud and long
And the stormy winds do blow.

The meteor flag of England
Shall yet terrific burn;
Till danger’s troubled night depart,
And the star of peace return.
Then, then, ye ocean warriors!
Our song and feast shall flow
To the fame of your name,
When the storm has ceased to blow;
When the fiery fight is heard no more,
And the storm has ceased to blow.

Thomas Campbell

The White Squall

The sea was bright, and the bark rode well;
The breeze bore the tone of the vesper bell;
’T was a gallant bark with a crew as brave
As ever launched on the heaving wave.
She shone in the light of declining day,
And each sail was set, and each heart was gay.

They neared the land where in beauty smiles
The sunny shore of the Grecian Isles;
All thought of home, of that welcome dear
Which soon should greet each wanderer’s ear;
And in fancy joined the social throng
In the festive dance and the joyous song.

A white cloud glides through the azure sky,—
What means that wild despairing cry?
Farewell the visioned scenes of home!
That cry is “Help,” where no help can come;
For the White Squall rides on the surging wave,
And the bark is ’gulfed in an ocean grave.

Bryan Waller Procter (Barry Cornwall)

“Our boat to the waves”

Our boat to the waves go free,
By the bending tide, where the curled wave breaks,
Like the track of the wind on the white snowflakes:
Away, away! ’T is a path o’er the sea.

Blasts may rave,—spread the sail,
For our spirits can wrest the power from the wind,
And the gray clouds yield to the sunny mind,
Fear not we the whirl of the gale.

William Ellery Channing

“A life on the ocean wave”

A life on the ocean wave,
A home on the rolling deep;
Where the scattered waters rave,
And the winds their revels keep!
Like an eagle caged I pine
On this dull, unchanging shore:
O, give me the flashing brine,
The spray and the tempest’s roar!

Once more on the deck I stand,
Of my own swift-gliding craft:
Set sail! farewell to the land;
The gale follows fair abaft.
We shoot through the sparkling foam,
Like an ocean-bird set free,—
Like the ocean-bird, our home
We ’ll find far out on the sea.

The land is no longer in view,
The clouds have begun to frown;
But with a stout vessel and crew,
We ’ll say, Let the storm come down!
And the song of our hearts shall be,
While the winds and the waters rave,
A home on the rolling sea!
A life on the ocean wave!

Epes Sargent

To Sea!

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 mermaid’s 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 white-winged bark
Shall billowing cleave its watery way,
And with its shadow, fleet and dark,
Break the caved Triton’s azure day,
Like mountain eagle soaring light
O’er antelopes on Alpine height.
The anchor heaves! The ship swings free!
Our sails swell full! To sea! to sea!

Thomas Lovell Beddoes

Twilight at Sea

The twilight hours, like birds, flew by,
As lightly and as free,
Ten thousand stars were in the sky,
Ten thousand on the sea;
For every wave, with dimpled face,
That leaped upon the air,
Had caught a star in its embrace,
And held it trembling there.

Amelia B. Welby

Tacking Ship Off-Shore

THE Weather-leech of the topsail shivers,
The bowlines strain, and the lee-shrouds slacken,
The braces are taut, the lithe boom quivers,
And the waves with the coming squall-cloud blacken.

Open one point on the weather-bow,
Is the light-house tall on Fire Island Head?
There’s a shade of doubt on the captain’s brow,
And the pilot watches the heaving lead.

I stand at the wheel, and with eager eye
To sea and to sky and to shore I gaze,
Till the muttered order of “Full and by!”
Is suddenly changed for “Full for stays!”

The ship bends lower before the breeze,
As her broadside fair to the blast she lays;
And she swifter springs to the rising seas,
As the pilot calls, “Stand by for stays!”

It is silence all, as each in his place,
With the gathered coil in his hardened hands,
By tack and bowline, by sheet and brace,
Waiting the watchword impatient stands.

And the light on Fire Island Head draws near,
As, trumpet-winged, the pilot’s shout
From his post on the bowsprit’s heel I hear,
With the welcome call of “Ready! About!”

No time to spare! It is touch and go;
And the captain growls, “Down, helm! hard down!”
As my weight on the whirling spokes I throw,
While heaven grows black with the storm-cloud’s frown.

High o’er the knight-heads flies the spray,
As we meet the shock of the plunging sea;
And my shoulder stiff to the wheel I lay,
As I answer, “Ay, ay, sir! Ha-a-rd a lee!”

With the swerving leap of a startled steed
The ship flies fast in the eye of the wind,
The dangerous shoals on the lee recede,
And the headland white we have left behind.

The topsails flutter, the jibs collapse,
And belly and tug at the groaning cleats;
The spanker slats, and the mainsail flaps;
And thunders the order, “Tacks and sheets!”

’Mid the rattle of blocks and the tramp of the crew,
Hisses the rain of the rushing squall:
The sails are aback from clew to clew,
And now is the moment for, “Mainsail, haul!”

And the heavy yards, like a baby’s toy,
By fifty strong arms are swiftly swung:
She holds her way, and I look with joy
For the first white spray o’er the bulwarks flung.

“Let go, and haul!” ’T is the last command,
And the head-sails fill to the blast once more:
Astern and to leeward lies the land,
With its breakers white on the shingly shore.

What matters the reef, or the rain, or the squall?
I steady the helm for the open sea;
The first mate clamors, “Belay, there, all!”
And the captain’s breath once more comes free.

And so off shore let the good ship fly;
Little care I how the gusts may blow,
In my fo’castle bunk, in a jacket dry,
Eight bells have struck, and my watch is below.

Walter Mitchell

The Storm

Cease, rude Boreas, blustering railer!
List, ye landsmen, all to me,
Messmates, hear a brother sailor
Sing the dangers of the sea;

From bounding billows, first in motion,
When the distant whirlwinds rise,
To the tempest-troubled ocean,
Where the seas contend with skies.

Hark! the boatswain hoarsely bawling,
By topsail sheets and halyards stand!
Down top-gallants quick be hauling!
Down your stay-sails, hand, boys, hand!

Now it freshens, set the braces,
Quick the topsail sheets let go;
Luff, boys, luff! don’t make wry faces,
Up your topsails nimbly clew.

Round us roars the tempest louder,
Think what fear our minds inthralls!
Harder yet, it yet blows harder,
Now again the boatswain calls.

The topsail yard point to the wind, boys,
See all clear to reef each course;
Let the fore sheet go, don’t mind, boys,
Though the weather should be worse.

Fore and aft the sprit-sail yard get,
Reef the mizzen, see all clear;
Hands up! each preventive brace set!
Man the fore yard, cheer, lads, cheer!

Now the dreadful thunder ’s roaring
Peal on peal contending clash,
On our heads fierce rain falls pouring,
In our eyes blue lightnings flash.

One wide water all around us,
All above us one black sky;
Different deaths at once surround us:
Hark! what means that dreadful cry?

The foremast ’s gone, cries every tongue out,
O’er the lee twelve feet ’bove deck;
A leak beneath the chest-tree ’s sprung out,
Call all hands to clear the wreck.

Quick the lanyards cut to pieces;
Come, my hearts, be stout and bold;
Plumb the well,—the leak increases,
Four feet water in the hold!

While o’er the ship wild waves are beating,
We our wives and children mourn;
Alas! from hence there ’s no retreating,
Alas! to them there ’s no return!

Still the leak is gaining on us!
Both chain-pumps are choked below:
Heaven have mercy here upon us!
For only that can save us now.

O’er the lee-beam is the land, boys,
Let the guns o’erboard be thrown;
To the pumps call every hand, boys,
See! our mizzen-mast is gone.

The leak we ’ve found, it cannot pour fast;
We ’ve lighted her a foot or more;
Up and rig a jury foremast,
She rights! she rights, boys! we ’re off shore.

George Alexander Stevens

The Wreck

From “Don Juan,” Canto II.

Then rose from sea to sky the wild farewell—
Then shrieked the timid, and stood still the brave,—
Then some leaped overboard with dreadful yell,
As eager to anticipate their grave;
And the sea yawned around her like a hell,
And down she sucked with her the whirling wave,
Like one who grapples with his enemy,
And strives to strangle him before he die.

And first one universal shriek there rushed,
Louder than the loud ocean, like a crash
Of echoing thunder; and then all was hushed,
Save the wild wind and the remorseless dash
Of billows; but at intervals there gushed,
Accompanied with a convulsive splash,
A solitary shriek, the bubbling cry
Of some strong swimmer in his agony.

Lord Byron

The Shipwreck

In vain the cords and axes were prepared,
For now the audacious seas insult the yard;
High o’er the ship they throw a horrid shade,
And o’er her burst in terrible cascade.
Uplifted on the surge, to heaven she flies,
Her shattered top half buried in the skies,
Then headlong plunging thunders on the ground;
Earth groans! air trembles! and the deeps resound!
Her giant-bulk the dread concussion feels,
And quivering with the wound in torment reels.
So reels, convulsed with agonizing throes,
The bleeding bull beneath the murderer’s blows.
Again she plunges! hark! a second shock
Tears her strong bottom on the marble rock:
Down on the vale of death, with dismal cries,
The fated victims, shuddering, roll their eyes
In wild despair; while yet another stroke,
With deep convulsion, rends the solid oak;
Till like the mine, in whose infernal cell
The lurking demons of destruction dwell,
At length asunder torn her frame divides,
And, crashing, spreads in ruin o’er the tides.
O, were it mine with tuneful Maro’s art
To wake to sympathy the feeling heart;
Like him the smooth and mournful verse to dress
In all the pomp of exquisite distress,
Then too severely taught by cruel fate,
To share in all the perils I relate,
Then might I with unrivalled strains deplore
The impervious horrors of a leeward shore!
As o’er the surge the stooping mainmast hung,
Still on the rigging thirty seamen clung;
Some, struggling, on a broken crag were cast,
And there by oozy tangles grappled fast.
Awhile they bore the o’erwhelming billows’ rage,
Unequal combat with their fate to wage;
Till, all benumbed and feeble, they forego
Their slippery hold, and sink to shades below.
Some, from the main-yard-arm impetuous thrown
On marble ridges, die without a groan.
Three with Palemon on their skill depend,
And from the wreck on oars and rafts descend.
Now on the mountain wave on high they ride,
Then downward plunge beneath the involving tide,
Till one, who seems in agony to strive,
The whirling breakers heave on shore alive;
The rest a speedier end of anguish knew,
And pressed the stony beach, a lifeless crew!

William Falconer

The Rock and the Sea

I AM the Rock, presumptuous Sea!
I am set to encounter thee.
Angry and loud, or gentle and still,
I am set here to limit thy power, and I will—
I am the Rock!

I am the Rock. From age to age
I scorn thy fury and dare thy rage.
Scarred by frost and worn by time,
Brown with weed and green with slime,
Thou mayst drench and defile me and spit in my face,
But while I am here thou keep’st thy place!
I am the Rock!

I am the Rock, beguiling Sea!
I know thou art fair as fair can be,
With golden glitter and silver sheen,
And bosom of blue and garments of green.
Thou mayst pat my cheek with baby hands,
And lap my feet in diamond sands,
And play before me as children play;
But plead as thou wilt, I bar the way!
I am the Rock!

I am the Rock. Black midnight falls;
The terrible breakers rise like walls;
With curling lips and gleaming teeth
They plunge and tear at my bones beneath.
Year upon year they grind and beat
In storms of thunder and storms of sleet—
Grind and beat and wrestle and tear,
But the rock they beat on is always there!
I am the Rock!

I am the Sea. I hold the land
As one holds an apple in his hand.
Hold it fast with sleepless eyes,
Watching the continents sink and rise.
Out of my bosom the mountains grow,
Back to its depths they crumble slow:
The earth is a helpless child to me—
I am the Sea!

I am the Sea. When I draw back
Blossom and verdure follow my track,
And the land I leave grows proud and fair,
For the wonderful race of man is there;
And the winds of heaven wail and cry
While the nations rise and reign and die—
Living and dying in folly and pain,
While the laws of the universe thunder in vain.
What is the folly of man to me?
I am the Sea!

I am the Sea. The earth I sway;
Granite to me is potter’s clay;
Under the touch of my careless waves
It rises in turrets and sinks in caves;
The iron cliffs that edge the land
I grind to pebbles and sift to sand,
And beach-grass bloweth and children play
In what were the rocks of yesterday;
It is but a moment of sport to me—
I am the Sea!

I am the Sea. In my bosom deep
Wealth and Wonder and Beauty sleep;
Wealth and Wonder and Beauty rise
In changing splendor of sunset skies,
And comfort the earth with rains and snows
Till waves the harvest and laughs the rose.
Flower and forest and child of breath
With me have life—without me, death.
What if the ships go down in me?—
I am the Sea!

Charlotte Perkins Gilman

The Polar Quest

Unconquerably, men venture on the quest
And seek an ocean amplitude unsailed,
Cold, virgin, awful. Scorning ease and rest,
And heedless of the heroes who have failed,
They face the ice floes with a dauntless zest.

The polar quest! Life’s offer to the strong!
To pass beyond the pale, to do and dare,
Leaving a name that stirs us like a song.
And making captive some strange Otherwhere,
Though grim the conquest, and the labor long.

Forever courage kindles, faith moves forth
To find the mystic floodway of the North.

Richard Burton

The Shore

From “Ariadne”

Hung like a rich pomegranate o’er the sea
The ripened moon; along the trancèd sand
The feather-shadowed ferns drooped dreamfully;
The solitude’s evading harmony
Mingled remotely over sea and land;
A light wind woke and whispered warily,
And myriad ripples tinkled on the strand.

Sir Charles George Douglas Roberts

The Kearsarge

In the gloomy ocean bed
Dwelt a formless thing, and said,
In the dim and countless eons long ago,
“I will build a stronghold high,
Ocean’s power to defy,
And the pride of haughty man to lay low.”

Crept the minutes for the sad,
Sped the cycles for the glad,
But the march of time was neither less nor more;
While the formless atom died,
Myriad millions by its side,
And above them slowly lifted Roncador.

Roncador of Caribee,
Coral dragon of the sea,
Ever sleeping with his teeth below the wave;
Woe to him who breaks the sleep!
Woe to them who sail the deep!
Woe to ship and man that fear a shipman’s grave!

Hither many a galleon old,
Heavy-keeled with guilty gold,
Fled before the hardy rover smiting sore;
But the sleeper silent lay
Till the preyer and his prey
Brought their plunder and their bones to Roncador.

Be content, O conqueror!
Now our bravest ship of war,
War and tempest who had often braved before,
All her storied prowess past,
Strikes her glorious flag at last
To the formless thing that builded Roncador.

James Jeffrey Roche

The Buoy-Bell

How like the leper, with his own sad cry
Enforcing his own solitude, it tolls!
That lonely bell set in the rushing shoals,
To warn us from the place of jeopardy!
O friend of man! sore-vexed by ocean’s power,
The changing tides wash o’er thee day by day;
Thy trembling mouth is filled with bitter spray,
Yet still thou ringest on from hour to hour;
High is thy mission, though thy lot is wild—
To be in danger’s realm a guardian sound;
In seamen’s dreams a pleasant part to bear,
And earn their blessing as the year goes round,
And strike the key-note of each grateful prayer,
Breathed in their distant homes by wife or child!

Charles Tennyson Turner

Dover Beach

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-blanched sand,
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 Ægæan, 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 furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-winds, 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.

Matthew Arnold

With a Nantucket Shell

I send a shell from the ocean beach;
But listen thou well, for my shell hath speech.
Hold to thine ear,
And plain thou ’lt hear
Tales of ships
That were lost in the rips,
Or that sunk on the shoals
Where the bell-buoy tolls,
And ever and ever its iron tongue rolls
In a ceaseless lament for the poor lost souls.

And a song of the sea
Has my shell for thee:
The melody in it
Was hummed at Wauwinet,
And caught at Coatue
By the gull that flew
Outside to the ships with its perishing crew.
But the white wings wave
Where none may save,
And there’s never a stone to mark a grave.

See, its sad heart bleeds
For the sailor’s needs;
But it bleeds again
For more mortal pain,
More sorrow and woe,
Than is theirs who go
With shuddering eyes and whitening lips
Down in the sea in their shattered ships.

Thou fearest the sea?
And a tyrant is he,—
A tyrant as cruel as tyrant may be;
But though winds fierce blow,
And the rocks lie low,
And the coast be lee,
This I say to thee:
Of Christian souls more have been wrecked on shore
Than ever were lost at sea!

Charles Henry Webb

The Sea Shell

From “The Excursion,” Book IV.

I have seen
A curious child, who dwelt upon a tract
Of inland ground, applying to his ear
The convolutions of a smooth-lipped shell;
To which, in silence hushed, his very soul
Listened intensely; and his countenance soon
Brightened with joy; for from within were heard
Murmurings, whereby the monitor expressed
Mysterious union with its native sea.
Even such a shell the universe itself
Is to the ear of Faith; and there are times,
I doubt not, when to you it doth impart
Authentic tidings of invisible things;
Of ebb and flow, and ever-during power;
And central peace, subsisting at the heart
Of endless agitation.

William Wordsworth

The Shell

From “Gebir,” Book I.

I am not daunted, no; I will engage.
But first, said she, what wager will you lay?
A sheep, I answered, add whate’er you will.
I cannot, she replied, make that return:
Our hided vessels in their pitchy round
Seldom, unless from rapine, hold a sheep.
But I have sinuous shells of pearly hue
Within, and they that lustre have imbibed
In the Sun’s palace-porch, where when unyoked
His chariot-wheel stands midway in the wave:
Shake one and it awakens, then apply
Its polisht lips to your attentive ear
And it remembers its august abodes,
And murmurs as the ocean murmurs there.

Walter Savage Landor

Hampton Beach

The sunlight glitters keen and bright,
Where, miles away,
Lies stretching to my dazzled sight
A luminous belt, a misty light,
Beyond the dark pine bluffs and wastes of sandy gray.

The tremulous shadow of the Sea!
Against its ground
Of silvery light, rock, hill, and tree,
Still as a picture, clear and free,
With varying outline mark the coast for miles around.

On—on—we tread with loose-flung rein
Our seaward way,
Through dark-green fields and blossoming grain,
Where the wild brier-rose skirts the lane,
And bends above our heads the flowering locust spray.

Ha! like a kind hand on my brow
Comes this fresh breeze,
Cooling its dull and feverish glow,
While through my being seems to flow
The breath of a new life,—the healing of the seas!

Now rest we, where this grassy mound
His feet hath set
In the great waters, which have bound
His granite ankles greenly round
With long and tangled moss, and weeds with cool spray wet.

Good-bye to pain and care! I take
Mine ease to-day;
Here, where the sunny waters break,
And ripples this keen breeze, I shake
All burdens from the heart, all weary thoughts away.

I draw a freer breath—I seem
Like all I see—
Waves in the sun—the white-winged gleam
Of sea-birds in the slanting beam—
And far-off sails which flit before the south-wind free.

So when Time’s veil shall fall asunder,
The soul may know
No fearful change, nor sudden wonder,
Nor sink the weight of mystery under,
But with the upward rise, and with the vastness grow.

And all we shrink from now may seem
No new revealing,—
Familiar as our childhood’s stream,
Or pleasant memory of a dream,
The loved and cherished Past upon the new life stealing.

Serene and mild, the untried light
May have its dawning;
And, as in summer’s northern night
The evening and the dawn unite,
The sunset hues of Time blend with the soul’s new morning.

I sit alone; in foam and spray
Wave after wave
Breaks on the rocks which, stern and gray,
Shoulder the broken tide away,
Or murmurs hoarse and strong through mossy cleft and cave.

What heed I of the dusty land
And noisy town?
I see the mighty deep expand
From its white line of glimmering sand
To where the blue of heaven on bluer waves shuts down!

In listless quietude of mind,
I yield to all
The change of cloud and wave and wind;
And passive on the flood reclined,
I wander with the waves, and with them rise and fall.

But look, thou dreamer!—wave and shore
In shadow lie;
The night-wind warns me back once more
To where, my native hill-tops o’er,
Bends like an arch of fire the glowing sunset sky!

So then, beach, bluff, and wave, farewell!
I bear with me
No token stone nor glittering shell,
But long and oft shall Memory tell
Of this brief thoughtful hour of musing by the Sea.

John Greenleaf Whittier

Among the Rocks

Oh, good gigantic smile o’ the brown old earth,
This autumn morning! How he sets his bones
To bask i’ the sun, and thrusts out knees and feet
For the ripple to run over in its mirth;
Listening the while, where on the heap of stones
The white breast of the sea-lark twitters sweet.

That is the doctrine, simple, ancient, true;
Such is life’s trial, as old earth smiles and knows.
If you loved only what were worth your love,
Love were clear gain, and wholly well for you:
Make the low nature better by your throes!
Give earth yourself, go up for gain above!

Robert Browning

The Inchcape Rock

No stir in the air, no stir in the sea,—
The ship was as still as she could be;
Her sails from heaven received no motion;
Her keel was steady in the ocean.

Without either sign or sound of their shock,
The waves flowed over the Inchcape rock;
So little they rose, so little they fell,
They did not move the Inchcape bell.

The holy Abbot of Aberbrothok
Had placed that bell on the Inchcape rock;
On a buoy in the storm it floated and swung,
And over the waves its warning rung.

When the rock was hid by the surges’ swell,
The mariners heard the warning bell;
And then they knew the perilous rock,
And blessed the Abbot of Aberbrothok.

The sun in heaven was shining gay,—
All things were joyful on that day;
The sea-birds screamed as they wheeled around,
And there was joyance in their sound.

The buoy of the Inchcape bell was seen,
A darker speck on the ocean green;
Sir Ralph, the rover, walked his deck,
And he fixed his eye on the darker speck.

He felt the cheering power of spring,—
It made him whistle, it made him sing;
His heart was mirthful to excess;
But the rover’s mirth was wickedness.

His eye was on the bell and float:
Quoth he, “My men, put out the boat;
And row me to the Inchcape rock,
And I ’ll plague the priest of Aberbrothok.”

The boat is lowered, the boatmen row,
And to the Inchcape rock they go;
Sir Ralph bent over from the boat,
And cut the warning bell from the float.

Down sank the bell with a gurgling sound;
The bubbles rose, and burst around.
Quoth Sir Ralph, “The next who comes to the rock
Will not bless the Abbot of Aberbrothok.”

Sir Ralph, the rover, sailed away,—
He scoured the seas for many a day;
And now, grown rich with plundered store,
He steers his course to Scotland’s shore.

So thick a haze o’erspreads the sky
They cannot see the sun on high;
The wind hath blown a gale all day;
At evening it hath died away.

On the deck the rover takes his stand;
So dark it is they see no land.
Quoth Sir Ralph, “It will be lighter soon,
For there is the dawn of the rising moon.”

“Canst hear,” said one, “the breakers roar?
For yonder, methinks, should be the shore.
Now where we are I cannot tell,
But I wish we could hear the Inchcape bell.”

They hear no sound; the swell is strong;
Though the wind hath fallen, they drift along;
Till the vessel strikes with a shivering shock,—
O Christ! it is the Inchcape rock!

Sir Ralph, the rover, tore his hair;
He cursed himself in his despair.
The waves rush in on every side;
The ship is sinking beneath the tide.

But ever in his dying fear
One dreadful sound he seemed to hear,—
A sound as if with the Inchcape bell
The Devil below was ringing his knell.

Robert Southey

“How ’s my boy?”

“Ho, sailor of the sea!
How ’s my boy—my boy?”
“What ’s your boy’s name, good wife,
And in what ship sailed he?”

“My boy John—
He that went to sea—
What care I for the ship, sailor?
My boy ’s my boy to me.

“You come back from sea,
And not know my John?
I might as well have asked some landsman,
Yonder down in the town.
There ’s not an ass in all the parish
But he knows my John.

“How ’s my boy—my boy?
And unless you let me know,
I ’ll swear you are no sailor,
Blue jacket or no,
Brass buttons or no, sailor,
Anchor and crown or no!
Sure his ship was the ‘Jolly Briton’”—
“Speak low, woman, speak low!”

“And why should I speak low, sailor,
About my own boy John?
If I was loud as I am proud
I ’d sing him over the town!
Why should I speak low, sailor?”
“That good ship went down.”

“How ’s my boy—my boy?
What care I for the ship, sailor?
I was never aboard her.
Be she afloat or be she aground,
Sinking or swimming, I ’ll be bound
Her owners can afford her!
I say, how ’s my John?”
“Every man on board went down,
Every man aboard her.”

“How ’s my boy—my boy?
What care I for the men, sailor?
I ’m not their mother—
How ’s my boy—my boy?
Tell me of him and no other!
How ’s my boy—my boy?”

Sydney Dobell

The Sailor’s Consolation

One night came on a hurricane,
The sea was mountains rolling,
When Barney Buntline turned his quid,
And said to Billy Bowling:
“A strong nor’wester ’s blowing, Bill;
Hark! don’t ye hear it roar now?
Lord help ’em, how I pities them
Unhappy folks on shore now!

“Foolhardy chaps who live in towns,
What danger they are all in,
And now lie quaking in their beds,
For fear the roof shall fall in:
Poor creatures! how they envies us,
And wishes, I ’ve a notion,
For our good luck, in such a storm,
To be upon the ocean!

“And as for them who ’re out all day
On business from their houses,
And late at night are coming home,
To cheer their babes and spouses,—
While you and I, Bill, on the deck
Are comfortably lying,
My eyes! what tiles and chimney-pots
About their heads are flying!

“And very often have we heard
How men are killed and undone
By overturns of carriages,
By thieves and fires in London.
We know what risks all landsmen run,
From noblemen to tailors;
Then, Bill, let us thank Providence
That you and I are sailors.”

William Pitt

Poor Jack

Go, patter to lubbers and swabs, do ye see,
’Bout danger, and fear, and the like;
A tight-water boat and good sea-room give me,
And it a’n’t to a little I ’ll strike.
Though the tempest topgallant-masts smack smooth should smite, 5
And shiver each splinter of wood,—
Clear the deck, stow the yards, and bouse everything tight,
And under reefed foresail we ’ll scud:
Avast! nor don’t think me a milksop so soft
To be taken for trifles aback;
For they say there ’s a Providence sits up aloft,
To keep watch for the life of poor Jack!

I heard our good chaplain palaver one day
About souls, heaven, mercy, and such;
And, my timbers! what lingo he ’d coil and belay;
Why, ’t was just all as one as High Dutch;
For he said how a sparrow can’t founder, d’ ye see,
Without orders that come down below;
And a many fine things that proved clearly to me
That Providence takes us in tow:
“For,” says he, do you mind me, “let storms e’er so oft
Take the topsails of sailors aback,
There ’s a sweet little cherub that sits up aloft,
To keep watch for the life of poor Jack!”

I said to our Poll,—for, d’ ye see, she would cry—
When last we weighed anchor for sea,
“What argufies snivelling and piping your eye?
Why, what a blamed fool you must be!
Can’t you see, the world ’s wide, and there ’s room for us all,
Both for seamen and lubbers ashore?
And if to old Davy I should go, friend Poll,
You never will hear of me more.
What then? All ’s a hazard: come, don’t be so soft:
Perhaps I may laughing come back;
For, d’ ye see, there ’s a cherub sits smiling aloft,
To keep watch for the life of poor Jack!”

D’ ye mind me, a sailor should be every inch
All as one as a piece of the ship,
And with her brave the world, not offering to flinch
From the moment the anchor ’s a-trip.
As for me, in all weathers, all times, sides, and ends,
Naught ’s a trouble from duty that springs,
For my heart is my Poll’s, and my rhino ’s my friend’s,
And as for my will, ’t is the king’s.
Even when my time comes, ne’er believe me so soft
As for grief to be taken aback;
For the same little cherub that sits up aloft
Will look out a good berth for poor Jack!

Charles Dibdin

The Mariner’s Dream

In slumbers of midnight the sailor-boy lay;
His hammock swung loose at the sport of the wind;
But watch-worn and weary, his cares flew away,
And visions of happiness danced o’er his mind.

He dreamt of his home, of his dear native bowers,
And pleasures that waited on life’s merry morn,
While Memory stood sideways, half covered with flowers,
And restored every rose, but secreted its thorn.

Then Fancy her magical pinions spread wide,
And bade the young dreamer in ecstasy rise;
Now far, far behind him the green waters glide,
And the cot of his forefathers blesses his eyes.

The jessamine clambers in flowers o’er the thatch,
And the swallow chirps sweet from her nest in the wall;
All trembling with transport he raises the latch,
And the voices of loved ones reply to his call.

A father bends o’er him with looks of delight;
His cheek is impearled with a mother’s warm tear;
And the lips of the boy in a love-kiss unite
With the lips of the maid whom his bosom holds dear.

The heart of the sleeper beats high in his breast;
Joy quickens his pulse, all his hardships seem o’er;
And a murmur of happiness steals through his rest,—
“O God! thou hast blest me,—I ask for no more.”

Ah! whence is that flame which now bursts on his eye?
Ah! what is that sound which now larums his ear?
’T is the lightning’s red glare, painting hell on the sky!
’T is the crash of the thunder, the groan of the sphere!

He springs from his hammock, he flies to the deck;
Amazement confronts him with images dire;
Wild winds and mad waves drive the vessel a wreck;
The masts fly in splinters; the shrouds are on fire.

Like mountains the billows tremendously swell;
In vain the lost wretch calls on mercy to save;
Unseen hands of spirits are ringing his knell,
And the death-angel flaps his broad wing o’er the wave!

O sailor-boy, woe to thy dream of delight!
In darkness dissolves the gay frost-work of bliss.
Where now is the picture that Fancy touched bright,—
Thy parents’ fond pressure, and love’s honeyed kiss?

O sailor-boy! sailor-boy! never again
Shall home, love, or kindred thy wishes repay;
Unblessed and unhonored, down deep in the main,
Full many a fathom, thy frame shall decay.

No tomb shall e’er plead to remembrance for thee,
Or redeem form or fame from the merciless surge;
But the white foam of waves shall thy winding-sheet be,
And winds in the midnight of winter thy dirge!

On a bed of green sea-flowers thy limbs shall be laid,—
Around thy white bones the red coral shall grow;
Of thy fair yellow locks threads of amber be made,
And every part suit to thy mansion below.

Days, months, years, and ages shall circle away,
And still the vast waters above thee shall roll;
Earth loses thy pattern forever and aye,—
O sailor-boy! sailor-boy! peace to thy soul!

William Dimond

The Sea-Limits

Consider the sea’s listless chime:
Time’s self it is, made audible—
The murmur of the earth’s own shell.
Secret continuance sublime
Is the sea’s end: our sight may pass
No furlong further. Since time was,
This sound hath told the lapse of time.

No quiet, which is death’s—it hath
The mournfulness of ancient life,
Enduring always at dull strife.
As the world’s heart of rest and wrath,
Its painful pulse is in the sands.
Last utterly, the whole sky stands,
Gray and not known, along its path.

Listen alone beside the sea,
Listen alone among the woods;
Those voices of twin solitudes
Shall have one sound alike to thee:
Hark where the murmurs of thronged men,
Surge and sink back and surge again—
Still the one voice of wave and tree.

Gather a shell from the strown beach
And listen at its lips: they sigh
The same desire and mystery,
The echo of the whole sea’s speech.
And all mankind is thus at heart
Not any thing but what thou art:
And Earth, Sea, Man, are all in each.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

So, here is the greatest compilation of poems about children.

Let me know which one is your favorite! 😉


2 thoughts on “57 Greatest Poems about the Sea

  1. Thank you so much for your compilation of the poems of the sea. Amazing, how different they are.
    We are living at the sea and love the sound and smell of the sea that’s especially intense in the autumn now when the sea is rough.
    Keep well and happy
    The Fab Four of Cley
    🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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