If only I could thematically search my brain.
March 29, 2010 9:07 PM   Subscribe

What poem am I thinking of? (Warning: woefully inadequate clues inside.)

Help me remember a poem that I read in high school.

It's a relatively famous poem, yet its title and author elude me. All I can remember is that it's about death, loss and/or longing, there is a boat (drifting, I believe), and an olden god of some kind. It resonated with me in a powerful way.

I've Googled extensively but come up empty-handed. The god/figure mentioned in the poem is something along the lines of Ozymandias or Kubla Khan. The poem itself, however, is more recent than the ones I've linked.

It's a medium-length poem, and split up into multiple stanzas. Any guesses would be sincerely appreciated, since this has been bothering me for the better part of a week. Thanks, Hive Mind!
posted by ardent to Writing & Language (24 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
John Milton's Lycidas?
posted by Madamina at 9:12 PM on March 29, 2010

Could it be Thanatopsis?
posted by katemonster at 9:14 PM on March 29, 2010

Edgar Arlington Robinson's The Return of Morgan and Fingal, perhaps? Boat, death, demon.
posted by bibliowench at 9:22 PM on March 29, 2010

Unlikely, but could it be Rimbaud's The Drunken Boat?
posted by Kattullus at 9:32 PM on March 29, 2010

Nope — it's more well-known, more recent, and shorter than those. Thanks for the suggestions, though!
posted by ardent at 9:50 PM on March 29, 2010

Tennyson's Ulysses?

Yeats's Sailing to Byzantium?
posted by eggplantplacebo at 11:14 PM on March 29, 2010

Tennyson: Crossing the Bar?
posted by Jahaza at 12:08 AM on March 30, 2010

"The Lady of Shalott" is a leaner at least.
posted by tellumo at 1:23 AM on March 30, 2010

Another vote for "Sailing to Byzantium."
posted by bardic at 1:33 AM on March 30, 2010

Bit of a long shot but Muséé des Beaux Arts?

posted by Laura_J at 8:35 AM on March 30, 2010

I vote for The Lady of Shalott, too. It's what came to my mind immediately.
posted by harperpitt at 8:38 AM on March 30, 2010

I wish I could take credit for this, but I can't -- so I'll just cut and paste what a librarian friend/awesome poetry nerd suggested:

I really feel like I know this poem but I can't put my finger on it. Open Google searches might eventually turn up something, but
going to a more focused resource might improve the odds.

1. A great place to start is the Poetry Foundation's "Poetry Tool":

I browsed under the categories Cycle of Life > Time and Brevity and Cycle of Life > Sorrow & Grieving, but there are other good
possibilities in that list.

I also entered 'boat' in the search box on the right side of the Poetry Tool header. That came up with many results that I limited to
'poems' by clicking that little grey box under 'refine results.' It was not an exhaustive list of possibilities, though, because this
is a literal text search not a controlled vocabulary -- meaning ardent may have to try many other terms like ship, dory, sailboat,
etc. to find the right poem.

Unfortunately, I don't see a way to combine a category and keyword search (like Time and Brevity + boat).

I'm sure these are not the ones ardent is looking for, but they struck my fancy based on the term and topic described:

Under the Vulture Tree by David Bottoms
Casualty by Seamus Heany
America by Tony Hoagland

2. I highly recommend touring the IPL resources available on this page and via the topics in the blue column on the left.

Their Ask a Librarian service can be extremely helpful and I know from personal experience that the librarian volunteers in the
service might like a question like this rather than another in the legions of questions from kids doing homework. :)

3. Don't underestimate the power of local libraries. The local city/county library may be able to offer assistance in accessing
subscription databases like Poem Finder and Granger's World of Poetry. These subscriptions may be more common at college or university
libraries, so that would be another option. Most libraries take questions by phone, e-mail, or chat (sometimes even texting), so it
doesn't require an in-person visit.

Oh, and if ardent contacts a librarian, trying to remember whether it was in a textbook, an anthology (like Norton's Anthology of
Poetry in its various forms), or some other format AND what years ardent was in high school could be useful.

Hope this helps!
posted by luazinha at 6:05 PM on March 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

It's not The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, is it?
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:45 PM on March 30, 2010

Great suggestions, but they're not the poem I was thinking of. I've marked luazinha's answer as best, simply because I'll be using it to research further. Thanks!
posted by ardent at 11:03 PM on March 30, 2010

I also believe the god in the poem is Egyptian, if anyone would still like to take a stab at guessing.
posted by ardent at 11:14 PM on March 30, 2010

I'd be surprised if you read I Am a Cowboy on the Boat of Ra by Ishmael Reed in high school, but I suppose it depends on your high school. Same goes for HD's Helen in Egypt.
posted by Kattullus at 11:32 PM on March 30, 2010

Another long shot, The Long Boat by Stanley Kunitz.
posted by Kattullus at 11:38 PM on March 30, 2010

Is it The Second Coming?
posted by fantine at 9:28 AM on March 31, 2010

Is it Walt Whitman's "O Captain! My Captain!" ?
posted by chujia at 6:56 PM on March 31, 2010

Egyptian gods, place-names or terms likely to be encountered in that context include: Osiris, Anubis (jackal headed), Seker, Thoth (jackal or baboon headed judge of the dead), Bata (ram or bull), Aken (ram-headed), Meseket (a name for the boat, not the ferryman), Horus (falcon headed), the four sons or parts of Horus, Khenti-Amentiu ("chief of the westerners", jackal-headed), Ptah, Sobek (crocodile headed), Aaru (afterlife place for good dead), Ammit (devourer of the bad dead), Duat (afterlife place, where judgment takes place), Abydos, Memphis, Thebes, Luxor, Karnak.

(that may help with searches)
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:04 AM on April 1, 2010

Still no luck. I do think the story of Isis and Osiris may have factored into the poem, though - thanks, LobsterMitten!
posted by ardent at 11:38 AM on April 1, 2010

Do you remember if it was a modern poem (eg more like ee cummings) or an older-style poem (rhyming lines of equal length)?
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:45 AM on April 1, 2010

It's more recent than Ozymandias and Kubla Khan -- that is, the language used was modern. But it wasn't anything like e. e. cummings and there was no weird spacing or punctuation.
posted by ardent at 12:22 PM on April 1, 2010

The Dry Salvages is one section of the poem Four Quartets by T. S Eliot; it's definitely about the sea, mentions Krishna but not Egyptian gods
The Waste Land by T. S. Eliot includes oblique references to Egyptian mythology (among many many other things); Eliot was influenced by The Golden Bough (as was Yeats and a number of other poets in the first part of the 20th century).

A couple of other longshot possibilities, upon searching for Osiris:
La Preface by Charles Olson - longshot but it does mention Osiris and a ship.

"Osiris and Set" in Roots and Branches, a book of poetry by Robert Edward Duncan published in 1964.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:15 PM on April 1, 2010

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