Sunday, August 12, 2012


The first stanza of Ernest Dowson's "In a Breton Cemetery," which comments upon the harsh life of Breton "fisher-folk," puts me in mind of a poem by Arthur Symons, Dowson's fellow Nineties poet.  Symons's best-known poems are set in the usual urban Decadent haunts: London, Paris, Venice, et cetera.  But Symons also spent a fair amount of time in out-of-the-way seaside towns in England, Wales, and Ireland, and these places find their way into a number of his poems.  (With the requisite twilit, grey-tinted melancholia and world-weariness of the Decadents still intact, of course.)

                            Richard Eurich, "In Falmouth Harbour" (1935)

          The Fisher's Widow

The boats go out and the boats come in
Under the wintry sky;
And the rain and foam are white in the wind,
And the white gulls cry.

She sees the sea when the wind is wild
Swept by the windy rain;
And her heart's a-weary of sea and land
As the long days wane.

She sees the torn sails fly in the foam,
Broad on the skyline grey;
And the boats go out and the boats come in,
But there's one away.

Arthur Symons, Days and Nights (1889).

                                        Richard Eurich, "P.Z. 576" (1974)

I like the recurrence of "the boats go out and the boats come in":  as with the movement of the tide.  The alliteration throughout the poem seems to embody the sound and the motion of the sea as well:  "wintry sky;/ . . . white in the wind,/And the white gulls cry."  And:  "She sees the sea when the wind is wild/Swept by the windy rain."  

I wonder about line 8: "As the long days wane."  The source would seem to be Tennyson's well-known lines in "Ulysses":  "The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep/Moans round with many voices."  Symons, like most Victorian poets, was brought up on Tennyson's verse.  Was this a conscious or an unconscious borrowing?  I suspect that it was done in homage to Tennyson, but that is just a guess.

                                   Richard Eurich, "Dorset Cove" (1939)


alice c said...

I grew up in Falmouth overlooking the harbour and am very moved to find this picture and poem today. The smell of the sea reaches me across many years. Thank you.

Rob K. said...

It reminds me of Longfellow's "The Tide Rises, the Tide Falls."

Bovey Belle said...

Sorry to have been MIA again, but now I'm back this post has just cheered me up. Another new poem (and poet) for me, but that's not difficult! Beautiful paintings too, very evocative.

Stephen Pentz said...

alice c: that is a nice coincidence! By the way, Symons wrote a number of poems set in Cornwall. Also, you may wish to track down a copy of his travel book "Cities and Sea-Coasts and Islands": it contains 3 or 4 essays on Cornwall.

Thanks for visiting again.

Stephen Pentz said...

Rob K: thank you for visiting, and for the reference to Longfellow's poem. I hadn't heard of it before, but now I have found it on the Internet. It does fit well.

Thanks again.

Stephen Pentz said...

Bovey Belle: as always, thank you for your thoughts. I'm pleased to introduce Symons to you -- I think that you will like his sea-side and countryside poems, as well as "Cities and Sea-Coasts and Islands," which I mentioned in my response to alice c's comment. I'm sure that you're familiar with some of the places in England and Wales that he writes about.

Thanks again.