poems about the ocean

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The Sea as Healer and Muse

Something there is about the sea and its curative powers. Physically, the salt is credited with doing many a skin ailment and wound good. Spiritually, though, its force is even greater. Consider Herman Melville’s famous lines from the opening pages of Moby-Dick:

“Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off – then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.”

It even affects landlubbers like Emily Dickinson who live far inland (read: Amherst, Massachusetts) from any ocean surf. Consider this Dickinson poem, connecting the sea’s powers with exultation (no small emotion, that!):


Exultation Is the Going
by Emily Dickinson

Exultation is the going
Of an inland soul to sea —
Past the houses — past the headlands —
Into deep Eternity!

Bred as we, among the mountains,
Can the sailor understand
The divine intoxication
Of the first league out from land?


In our ways, we are all “inland souls” who often conflate place with all manner of problems — misery, boredom, social turmoil, failure, depression, etc. What better solution than to move away, start over, make of ourselves a tabula rasa for complete restarts?

But moving from Point A to Point B on land is nothing compared to going out to sea. There’s something about the sound of the ship on the water, the seagulls calling overhead, the sun glinting off the water, the smell of saltwater, the silver backs of dolphins playing catch in the ship’s wake, the wind tossing our hair.

Even better, there’s something about land growing smaller and smaller as we deliver ourselves to Mother Ocean’s understanding arms. That promontory or lighthouse back there, we tell ourselves, is us. What we were. What we will never be again.

Out here? Out here is complete freedom. Nature in its most raw form. Forgiveness. Love. Exultation.

Of course, in Miss Emily’s hands, the whole “going” can be read as “going for good,” but it still flies. Death and the Sea as co-conspirators of liberation. Anyone with a terminal illness or debilitating pain can relate.

Even people who have never left the confines of Nebraska’s landlocked prairies can sense all of this. There’s something mysterious and lovely about the sea….