Note: Dashes ('- - -') signify indentation only.

Selbstmord of the Sea

We like to debate poetry
As verses we recite roll off our tongues
And linger between our lips
Just long enough for the accompanying breaths to
Obliterate them.
"I think Eliot said it best:
'Oed' und leer das Meer.'"
- - - "That's Wagner."
"Is not."
- - - "Read beneath the poem."
Footnotes we often overlook, (in)conveniently.
Letters drift in languid black upon the placid page,
A deceitful sea for what's contained within.

On the surface a sea reflects the sky:
Azure for blue and tempest for storm.
"This poem is about existentialism."
- - - "Why do you say that?"
"Read it, silly. The speaker clearly means to say
That life is chaos and Fate submits to Anarchy.
The tattered boat pitching on the frothing sea? That is
Man amidst his own reality."
- - - "What's your major—English?"
"Undeclared—I can't make up my mind."

But currents flow beneath no matter what the surface,
On and on and on, steadily meandering
Along a course detected minutely by tattered boats—
But a powerful punch and pull below.
Dip your hands, and finally see the sea!
Senses aid each other when the want arises:
- - - "Try reading it another way."
"Like backwards? That's a joke."
- - - "Note the lines, hear the beats,
- - - Feel the rigid stanzas. Taste
- - - Each careful word upon your tongue.
- - - No chaos here."
"The structure's meant ironically—It must be."
- - - "The people I distrust most are those who want
- - - To improve our lives but have
- - - Only one course of action."
"Wagner?"
- - - "It's pronounced 'vahg-ner' not 'wag-nah.'
- - - But no. Herbert."
Currents wind among the seas and spread their waters elsewhere:
Cold and heat and other things spilling from contained seas
Traverse afar by way of tributary to other pacific pages,
To other voids that hang between our pairs of lips
Where spins the maelstrom of the storm with unrestrained ferocity.

Oh tempest, my tempest, why the fury of this sea?
Why rip the mizzen and snap the jib?
Why not allow us passage safe and free?
The fury makes the sea, and the sea makes the man;
Or does the man make the fury, and the fury make the sea?

Does it matter?

"Existentialism or not? Or something else? Which is it?"
- - - "Damned if I know. Read it again."
"I couldn't stand to."
- - - "I thought you liked this poem."
"Not so much anymore."
Man once roamed and loved and owned and ruled the sea
As empires rose and fell and rose and fell like undulating waves.
Now we fly American Air to Europe—
The sea seems very still from thirty thousand feet.
Waves are elongated lines across the page that extend on endless into sky but mean to us
Nothing.
Perhaps we sometimes (often) look too hard, peer too hard,
And ask too hard. And we lose interest when our efforts are fruitless.
The sea is no one's thrall;
Do not make that mistake.
Currents flow of their own accord, not ours, and we must be content
To drift...

Inevitably—there rise the headlands, ah, Dover,
Or some other place where the sea confronts the solid world.
It's still too far, though, to see the rocks,
To hear the sound, to feel the breakers,
To taste the salty spray of sea tossing in the air.
Only cries of seagulls here to herald the current's coming doom.
For the sea, its death glowers before it;
It does not murk and steal behind its back.
The sea is brave, oh so very brave, to press ever onward to its ruin.
- - - "I love this poem. Why've you
- - - Changed your mind?"
"It doesn't make any sense.
Does the speaker want to
Confuse me? Does he want
Me to hate his words and
Subtle meaning?"
- - - "What do you think?"
"I'm tired of thinking.
This poem's beaten me."
Crash and roar! The voice of a distant sea is heard pounding on these rocks
As the current hurls itself upon its bitter foe.
They spar like titans of millenia,
One of ignorant stone and one of determined water.
Why, courageous sea, why selbstmord? To what end?

We stand upon that contested shore
And debate our poetry.
"I just don't get it."
- - - "Maybe you were right, you know,
- - - With the existentialism bit?"
"You said yourself it
Didn't really make sense."
- - - "It did to you, and marvel
- - - At how you read it
- - - Now."
"I still don't get it."
- - - "Not completely, but you do a little.
- - - Is to have exact and correct meaning
- - - Really that important?"
For every wave that breaks upon the land,
A gentle lapping drowns our feet and for a moment
Our toes bathe in ecstacy and sink into that coarse-soft sand—
And what is sand but a little land that's given way
Before the relentless sea, a small victory from its death?
For us the sea holds nothing until it crashes so,
And we glean a little for all its tremendous journey,
And for that, it recedes, satisfied.
- - - "Desolate and empty is the Sea."
"What's that from?"
- - - "Eliot."