Here's 'an ideal gift for
all those who are fascinated by the sea'. That should solve innumerable
Christmas present problems. The Sea! The Sea! is a bulky little paperback with smart cover flaps
and an image of waves. Good in the hand. Anvil have produced this along with
the National Maritime Museum for 'Sea Britain' year. (I'd not noticed until
now that Anvil's in Greenwich.)
Yes, it does have the poems you'd expect and it's good to have them all
together. If you want to know who wrote 'For those in peril on the sea',
here's the answer: William Whiting. 'Sea Fever' is the poem that topped Magma's best sea poem poll. Here it's on a double page
spread with 'Cargoes'. Everyone I know can quote (or misquote) the opening
line of 'Sea Fever': 'I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and
the sky' as well as a chunk from 'Cargoes' - usually the 'Dirty British
coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack'. Most people can't put their hands on
the rest of the poem though.
Masefield is followed by Wallace Stevens 'The Idea of Order at Key West',
who's followed by W.C. Williams with 'Seafarer': the poems are arranged
chronologically by their authors' dates of birth. This puts the C8 'The
Seafarer' upfront where it should be, and makes it easy enough to find the
poem you're looking for. But if you're in a mood for shipwrecks, or for calm
seas, or some other sea-theme, you'll have to trawl a bit.
Or maybe not quite everything you'd expect is here. W. S. Graham isn't
represented by 'The Nightfishing' but instead by a one-page poem 'Falling
into the Sea'. G.M. Hopkins has an 8 line poem, 'Heaven-haven', rather than
'The Wreck of the Deutschland'. Only two pages from the 'Rime of the Ancient
Mariner'. 'Restrictions of time and space' explains Peter Jay in his
There are plenty of poems that are new to me though, including a poem by Tim
Murphy about the Fastnet disaster. Though I mustn't give the impression that
the book's all shipwrecks. Rather the opposite, for Peter Jay has selected
poems which have the sea as background to some such event, but which also use
the sea as 'pivotal image or symbol'. Hence Matthew Arnold's 'Dover Beach'
and 'To Marguerite'.
It has another distinctive feature too: 'a good handful of French and Spanish
poems', included 'in a commemorative spirit' for the anniversary of the
Battle of Trafalgar. More new poems. (These are in translation: Sorley
MacLean is the only poet who gets to speak in two languages.)
Like all anthologists, Peter Jay forestalls criticism of his selections.
Quite endearingly, I think: 'For all other omissions or perversities in this
selection, I plead ignorance or landlubber's misjudgement.' And like all
reviewers, I want to rehearse a version of my own. Not being a landlubber, of
course I'd have liked a lot more heaving decks and hawsers and spars. There'd
be altogether more Scots in my version - from the C18 Birlinn of Clanranald,
to a couple of catastrophes from Ian Crichton Smith ('The Titanic' - Peter Jay gives this subject to Thomas Hardy -
and 'The Iolaire') as well as
the chunk from 'My Canadian Uncle' about emigrating on a cattle ship. Norman
MacCaig and George Mackay Brown. Oh, and the loveliest sea poem I know, Gael
Turnbull's 'It was' which I have in his From the Language of the Heart.
I'd have more contemporary writers - though I'm running up a sizeable bill in
copyright permissions here. Thomas A. Clark. Poems from Henry Schukmans'
brief time as a trawerlman. The poet I'm most sorry not to find here is Ian
Stephen (a one-time Stornoway Coastguard), whose collection Providence II could go in almost entire. But then a landlubber
might well be baffled by some of it, say, the end of 'The Sound of Harris': 'You
navigate / in diagonals'. So maybe The Sea, The Sea! is good for Christmas presents - just buy your
sailing friends Ian Stephen's book instead from Windfall Press (42 Gress,
Isle of Lewis, PA86 0NB). Or pick up the 'Sea Britain' issue of Magma for Theo Dorgan's poem 'The Gaffer': they'd go for
© Jane Routh 2005