John Brett, "Falmouth Harbour, 13 July 1883" (1883)
First, an untitled poem by A. E. Housman:
There pass the careless people
That call their souls their own:
Here by the road I loiter,
How idle and alone.
Ah, past the plunge of plummet,
In seas I cannot sound,
My heart and soul and senses,
World without end, are drowned.
His folly has not fellow
Beneath the blue of day
That gives to man or woman
His heart and soul away.
There flowers no balm to sain him
From east of earth to west
That's lost for everlasting
The heart out of his breast.
Here by the labouring highway
With empty hands I stroll:
Sea-deep, till doomsday morning,
Lie lost my heart and soul.
A. E. Housman, Poem XIV, A Shropshire Lad (1896).
"Plummet" (line 5) is "a piece of lead or other heavy material attached to a line, used for measuring the depth of water; a sounding lead." OED. (But the more commonly-used sense of "a rapid fall; an instance of plummeting rapidly" is perhaps invoked by implication.) "Sain" (line 13) means "to bless . . . esp. in collocation with save" or "to secure by prayer or enchantment from evil influence." Ibid. These two senses derive from the primary meaning: "to make the sign of the cross on (a thing or person) in token of consecration or blessing; or for the purpose of exorcizing a demon, warding off the evil influences of witches, poison, etc." Ibid.
I like the way Housman works his sea imagery into the poem without being too insistent about it. But, at the end, he brings it to the fore beautifully: "Sea-deep . . . lie lost my heart and soul" is wonderful.
John Brett, "Christmas Morning, 1866" (1868)
I've never been able to figure out the following poem. I'll attempt to excuse my thickheadedness by positing that it is a poem of evocative atmosphere, with no "plot" per se. Which, come to think of it, may be exactly the point. At any rate, I do know this: it sounds good.
Rain patters on a sea that tilts and sighs.
Fast-running floors, collapsing into hollows,
Tower suddenly, spray-haired. Contrariwise,
A wave drops like a wall: another follows,
Wilting and scrambling, tirelessly at play
Where there are no ships and no shallows.
Above the sea, the yet more shoreless day,
Riddled by wind, trails lit-up galleries:
They shift to giant ribbing, sift away.
Such attics cleared of me! Such absences!
Philip Larkin, The Less Deceived (The Marvell Press 1955).
Interestingly, Larkin chose "Absences" when he was asked to select a poem to be included in an anthology titled Poet's Choice (Dial Press 1962). Larkin, who was usually not given to explicating his own work, wrote this as an introduction to the poem:
"I suppose I like 'Absences' (a) because of its subject matter -- I am always thrilled by the thought of what places look like when I am not there; (b) because I fancy it sounds like a different, better poet rather than myself. The last line, for instance, sounds like a slightly unconvincing translation from a French symbolist. I wish I could write like this more often.
Incidentally, an oceanographer wrote to me pointing out that I was confusing two kinds of wave, plunging waves and spilling waves, which seriously damaged the poem from a technical viewpoint. I am sorry about this, but do not see how to amend it now."
Philip Larkin, "Poet's Choice," in Further Requirements: Interviews, Broadcasts, Statements and Book Reviews 1952-85 (edited by Anthony Thwaite) (Faber and Faber 2001), page 17.
"I am always thrilled by the thought of what places look like when I am not there." Part of me thinks that Larkin is pulling our leg. But, then, think about it . . .
John Brett, "A North-West Gale off the Longships Lighthouse" (1873)