Please recommend poems about the beach / the sea / the ocean.
February 11, 2013 5:58 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for poems about the beach that have some nostalgia to them. I'll be pairing them with some photographs of a woman on the beach looking mostly wistfully (think prenup photos!). Quotes are also appreciated. thanks!
posted by drea to Writing & Language (20 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
There's the 4th verse of Mr. Tambourine Man

Then take me disappearin’ through the smoke rings of my mind
Down the foggy ruins of time, far past the frozen leaves
The haunted, frightened trees, out to the windy beach
Far from the twisted reach of crazy sorrow
Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free
Silhouetted by the sea, circled by the circus sands
With all memory and fate driven deep beneath the waves
Let me forget about today until tomorrow
posted by TwoWordReview at 6:06 PM on February 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Pablo Neruda's Ode to the Sea
posted by sweetkid at 6:09 PM on February 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

There's also Sea Fever by John Masefield, though that's not specifically about the beach as much as it as about the sea more generally.
posted by TwoWordReview at 6:10 PM on February 11, 2013

Dover Beach

The sea is calm tonight,
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 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 Aegean, 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 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.

1867 by Matthew Arnold
posted by Amy NM at 6:10 PM on February 11, 2013 [4 favorites] has an amazing search and sort system.
i.e. a search for beach.
Although beachy pre-nup photos may not be exactly suited to it, I liked this one:

The worms beneath the grass
tingles against moist roots,
the yellow jacket drills
deep into pulpy fruit:
a day of rippling airs
and golden undertones—
barefoot we wander down the beach
culling its whitest stones.
--Frederick Morgan
posted by Cold Lurkey at 6:14 PM on February 11, 2013

it's a little melancholy, but the last line is good.

maggie and milly and molly and may
e.e. cummings

maggie and milly and molly and may
went down to the beach(to play one day)

and maggie discovered a shell that sang
so sweetly she couldn't remember her troubles,and

milly befriended a stranded star
whose rays five languid fingers were;

and molly was chased by a horrible thing
which raced sideways while blowing bubbles:and

may came home with a smooth round stone
as small as a world and as large as alone.

for whatever we lose(like a you or a me)
it's always ourselves we find in the sea
posted by koroshiya at 6:42 PM on February 11, 2013 [3 favorites]

"Voyages" is a fantastic sequence by Hart Crane. Here's part one.
posted by munyeca at 6:44 PM on February 11, 2013

It's pretty ehhhh dark, but I've always loved Once by the Pacific by Robert Frost.
posted by lovableiago at 7:09 PM on February 11, 2013

You might want to take a look at Kampion Book of Waves. He is a surfer and a photographer and most of the book is pictures of water waves breaking adjacent to famous surfing sites. There are a bunch of suitable poems and literary snips used to break up the format which are very well done. This is a stunningly beautiful book.
posted by bukvich at 7:21 PM on February 11, 2013

“The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient. To dig for treasures shows not only impatience and greed, but lack of faith. Patience, patience, patience, is what the sea teaches. Patience and faith. One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach—waiting for a gift from the sea.”

― Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift from the Sea
posted by R. Mutt at 7:38 PM on February 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oceans by Pearl Jam. There's some metaphor there, but...

Hold on to the thread
The currents will shift
Glide me towards you
Know something's left
And we're all allowed
to dream of the next
Oh the next... time we touch..........

You don't have to stray
Two oceans away
Waves roll in my thoughts
Hold tight the ring...
The sea will rise...
Please stand by the shore...

I will be...
I will be...
There once more.........
posted by the twistinside at 7:39 PM on February 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

That's not a poem, it is a song.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:53 PM on February 11, 2013

HD's Oread

Whirl up, sea—
whirl your pointed pines,
splash your great pines
on our rocks,
hurl your green over us,
cover us with your pools of fir.
posted by winna at 8:22 PM on February 11, 2013

From Romeo and Juliet:

"My bounty is as boundless as the sea,
My love as deep; the more I give to thee,
The more I have, for both are infinite."

IMO, perfect for prenup photos.
posted by Concolora at 8:22 PM on February 11, 2013


The heart can think of no devotion
Greater than being shore to the ocean --
Holding the curve of one position,
Counting an endless repetition.

-- Robert Frost
posted by Spinneret at 8:30 PM on February 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

Kerouac's Sea - sounds of the pacific ocean at Big Sur
posted by Tom-B at 10:45 PM on February 11, 2013

Wallace Steven's The Idea of Order at Key West comes to mind, though it ranges far beyond being an ode to the sea, and may be more far-reaching than you're looking for.

Also, as much as I love Arnold's Dover beach, I think I love Anthony Hecht's "The Dover Bitch" a little more:

The Dover Bitch

A Criticism of Life: for Andrews Wanning

So there stood Matthew Arnold and this girl
With the cliffs of England crumbling away behind them,
And he said to her, 'Try to be true to me,
And I'll do the same for you, for things are bad
All over, etc., etc.'
Well now, I knew this girl. It's true she had read
Sophocles in a fairly good translation
And caught that bitter allusion to the sea,
But all the time he was talking she had in mind
The notion of what his whiskers would feel like
On the back of her neck. She told me later on
That after a while she got to looking out
At the lights across the channel, and really felt sad,
Thinking of all the wine and enormous beds
And blandishments in French and the perfumes.
And then she got really angry. To have been brought
All the way down from London, and then be addressed
As a sort of mournful cosmic last resort
Is really tough on a girl, and she was pretty.
Anyway, she watched him pace the room
And finger his watch-chain and seem to sweat a bit,
And then she said one or two unprintable things.
But you mustn't judge her by that. What I mean to say is,
She's really all right. I still see her once in a while
And she always treats me right. We have a drink
And I give her a good time, and perhaps it's a year
Before I see her again, but there she is,
Running to fat, but dependable as they come.
And sometimes I bring her a bottle of Nuit d' Amour.
posted by mosk at 11:36 PM on February 11, 2013

by Donald W. Shriver Jr.

From far-out depths they come,
swell swelling swell,
'til cresting they salute the sky
and tumble towards sand that waits immemorially
to receive them.

Summer upon summer
we played there
while our species slid submarines
bigger than whales
into those depths
and children of fathers like you
rode waves to beaches
where met our clashing causes
and death met death as no ocean could devise.
Nor could any picnic on safe sands
take from our generation
our fear of beaches.

But you, on your own ridge of years,
taught me, beached and fearful of breakers,
to wade into them,
to turn and join their fling towards land.

Together we felt those last foamy energies
that bounded us playfully upon smooth sand
as though we belonged to both sea and shore.

I see you yet, riding that curved-up moving hill
assuring us your children
that, rightly ridden, the sea pushes safely to shore.
Your wave-riding done, I follow you still
with other generations bobbing behind—
I next, all of us beach-destined.

But you touched wave and beach
with father's love for boy.
I ride my time's wave now,
trusting still your trust:
"It moves towards home."
posted by SyraCarol at 3:31 AM on February 12, 2013

Dover Beach came to mind immediately.

Also by Matthew Arnold, a VERY melancholy one, The Forsaken Merman

Come, dear children, let us away;
Down and away below!
Now my brothers call from the bay,
Now the great winds shoreward blow,
Now the salt tides seaward flow;
Now the wild white horses play,
Champ and chafe and toss in the spray.
Children dear, let us away!
This way, this way!

Call her once before you go -
Call once yet!
In a voice that she will know:
`Margaret! Margaret!'
Children's voices should be dear
(Call once more) to a mother's ear;
Children's voices, wild with pain -
Surely she will come again!
Call her once and come away;
This way, this way!
`Mother dear, we cannot stay!
The wild white horses foam and fret.'
Margaret! Margaret!

Come, dear children, come away down;
Call no more!
One last look at the white-walled town,
And the little grey church on the windy shore;
Then come down!
She will not come though you call all day;
Come away, come away!

Children dear, was it yesterday
We heard the sweet bells over the bay?
In the caverns where we lay,
Through the surf and through the swell,
The far-off sound of a silver bell?
Sand-strewn caverns, cool and deep,
Where the winds are all asleep;
Where the spent lights quiver and gleam,
Where the salt weed sways in the stream,
Where the sea-beasts, ranged all round,
Feed in the ooze of their pasture-ground;
Where the sea-snakes coil and twine,
Dry their mail and bask in the brine;
Where great whales come sailing by,
Sail and sail, with unshut eye,
Round the world for ever and aye?
When did music come this way?
Children dear, was it yesterday?

Children dear, was it yesterday
(Call yet once) that she went away?
Once she sate with you and me,
On a red gold throne in the heart of the sea,
And the youngest sate on her knee.
She combed its bright hair, and she tended it well,
When down swung the sound of a far-off bell.
She sighed, she looked up through the clear green sea;
She said: `I must go, for my kinsfolk pray
In the little grey church on the shore today.
'Twill be Easter-time in the world -ah me!
And I lose my poor soul, Merman! here with thee.'
I said: `Go up, dear heart, through the waves;
Say thy prayer, and come back to the kind sea-caves!'
She smiled, she went up through the surf in the bay.
Children dear, was it yesterday?

Children dear, were we long alone?
`The sea grows stormy, the little ones moan;
Long prayers,' I said, `in the world they say;
Come,' I said; and we rose through the surf in the bay.
We went up the beach, by the sandy down
Where the sea-stocks bloom, to the white-walled town;
Through the narrow paved streets, where all was still,
To the little grey church on the windy hill.
From the church came a murmur of folk at their prayers,
But we stood without in the cold blowing airs.
We climbed on the graves, on the stones worn with rains,
And we gazed up the aisle through the small leaded panes.
She sate by the pillar; we saw her clear:
`Margaret, hist! come quick, we are here!
Dear heart,' I said, `we are long alone;
The sea grows stormy, the little ones moan.'
But, ah, she gave me never a look,
For her eyes we sealed to the holy book!
Loud prays the priest; shut stands the door.
Come away, children, call no more!
Come away, come down, call no more!

Down, down, down!
Down to the depths of the sea!
She sits at her wheel in the humming town,
Singing most joyfully.
Hark, what she sings: `O joy, O joy,
For the humming street, and the child with its toy!
For the priest, and the bell, and the holy well;
For the wheel where I spun,
And the blessed light of the sun!'
And so she sings her fill,
Singing most joyfully,
Till the shuttle drops from her hand,
And the whizzing wheel stands still.
She steals to the window, and looks at the sand,
And over the sand at the sea;
And her eyes are set in a stare;
And anon there breaks a sigh,
And anon there drops a tear,
From a sorrow-clouded eye,
And a heart sorrow-laden,
A long, long sigh;
For the cold strange eyes of a little Mermaiden,
And the gleam of her golden hair.

Come away, away children;
Come children, come down!
The hoarse wind blows coldly;
Lights shine in the town.
She will start from her slumber
When gusts shake the door;
She will hear the winds howling,
Will hear the waves roar.
We shall see, while above us
The waves roar and whirl,
A ceiling of amber,
A pavement of pearl,
Singing: `Here came a mortal,
But faithless was she!
And alone dwell for ever
The kings of the sea.'

But, children, at midnight,
When soft the winds blow,
When clear fall the moonlight,
When spring-tides are low;
When sweet airs come seaward
From heaths starred with broom,
And high rocks throw mildly
On the blanched sands a gloom;
Up the still, glistening beaches,
Up the creeks we will hie,
Over banks of bright seaweed
The ebb-tide leaves dry.
We will gaze, from the sand-hills,
At the white sleeping town;
At the church on the hillside -
And then come back down.
Singing: `There dwells a loved one,
But cruel is she!
She left lonely for ever
The kings of the sea.'

Yeah, I really love me some Matthew Arnold.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:41 AM on February 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

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