Monday, January 7, 2013

"The Strand"

On my daily walk, I sometimes visit a lighthouse that is located on a point that juts out into Puget Sound.  The beach is strewn with driftwood -- large grey-white logs in many cases, especially in winter, when the wind and the currents have brought them across the Sound from the west.

Ocean freighters arrive and depart out on the horizon.  I have seen no "quinquireme of Nineveh from distant Ophir."  (John Masefield, "Cargoes.")  Rather, these ships have come from, or are bound for, places such as Shanghai, Qingdao, Yantian, and Ningbo.

                                      W. E. Leadley, "Driftwood" (1960)

                           The Strand

White Tintoretto clouds beneath my naked feet,
This mirror of wet sand imputes a lasting mood
To island truancies; my steps repeat

Someone's who now has left such strands for good
Carrying his boots and paddling like a child,
A square black figure whom the horizon understood --

My father.  Who for all his responsibly compiled
Account books of a devout, precise routine
Kept something in him solitary and wild,

So loved the western sea and no tree's green
Fulfilled him like these contours of Slievemore
Menaun and Croaghaun and the bogs between.

Sixty-odd years behind him and twelve before,
Eyeing the flange of steel in the turning belt of brine
It was sixteen years ago he walked this shore

And the mirror caught his shape which catches mine
But then as now the floor-mop of the foam
Blotted the bright reflections -- and no sign

Remains of face or feet when visitors have gone home.

Louis MacNeice, Holes in the Sky (1948).

                                                Paul Nash, "Plage" (1928)

MacNeice wrote "The Strand" in 1945.  A half-century later, Seamus Heaney published the following poem.  The players are the same:  a father, a son, and the strand.  But Heaney has distilled things down to three lines. And has perhaps come to a different conclusion.

                      The Strand

The dotted line my father's ashplant made
On Sandymount Strand
Is something else the tide won't wash away.

Seamus Heaney, The Spirit Level (Faber and Faber 1996).

  Maxwell Armfield, "Seven Sisters" (1944)


Fred said...


Perhaps memories make a difference?

Stephen Pentz said...

Fred: that's a good way to put it. Thanks for that thought.