Seaweed and Surf, Appledore, at Sunset, oil on canvas painting by Frederick Childe Hassam
via Wikimedia Commons

Bella chose this poem to read aloud to me last week. I’d never read it before and I was very much taken with it. How lovely to be introduced to a new poem by my daughter.


by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

When descends on the Atlantic
The gigantic
Storm-wind of the equinox,
Landward in his wrath he scourges
The toiling surges,
Laden with seaweed from the rocks:

From Bermuda’s reefs; from edges
Of sunken ledges,
In some far-off, bright Azore;
From Bahama, and the dashing,
Surges of San Salvador;

From the tumbling surf, that buries
The Orkneyan skerries,
Answering the hoarse Hebrides;
And from wrecks of ships, and drifting
Spars, uplifting
On the desolate, rainy seas; —

Ever drifting, drifting, drifting
On the shifting
Currents of the restless main;
Till in sheltered coves, and reaches
Of sandy beaches,
All have found repose again.

So when storms of wild emotion
Strike the ocean
Of the poet’s soul, erelong
From each cave and rocky fastness,
In its vastness,
Floats some fragment of a song:

From the far-off isles enchanted,
Heaven has planted
With the golden fruit of Truth;
From the flashing surf, whose vision
Gleams Elysian
In the tropic clime of Youth;

From the strong Will, and the Endeavor
That forever
Wrestle with the tides of Fate;
From the wreck of Hopes far-scattered,
Floating waste and desolate; —

Ever drifting, drifting, drifting
On the shifting
Currents of the restless heart;
Till at length in books recorded,
They, like hoarded
Household words, no more depart.

Longfellow is certainly very flowery in his verse and the rhymes feel a bit too obvious (gigantic–Atlantic, reaches-beaches, emotion-ocean). I usually prefer a more spare style. But there’s something about this poem that captivates me despite having many elements which I’d usually disdain. I am charmed by the image of the poem as a bit of seaweed drifting on the currents of the restless heart, the poem as a fruit from a far-off heavenly place, a “golden fruit of Truth”. The rhythm of this poem is quite nice too, echoing the rhythm of the surf. I’m usually not a fan of sing-song rhyme, but I think it matches the tidal rhythm somehow. I do really like the threefold repetition of “drifting, drifting, drifting.”

I love Childe Hassam and especially his Appledore paintings, many of which we got to see last year at the Peabody Essex Museum. I stumbled on this one while looking for paintings of seaweed to go witht the poem. It seems a happy coincidence, especially as he’s one of Bella’s favorites too.

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  • Knowing nothing about this poem I read it aloud to myself and when I came to the line

    “So when storms of wild emotion
    Strike the ocean
    Of the poet’s soul…”

    I realised there was more treasure there than the beautiful imagery.
    Thank you so much for this post!