Sunday, 9 May 2010

For dad


What seas what shores what grey rocks and what islands
What water lapping the bow
And scent of pine and the woodthrush singing through the fog
What images return
O my daughter.

Those who sharpen the tooth of the dog, meaning
Those who glitter with the glory of the hummingbird, meaning
Those who sit in the sty of contentment, meaning
Those who suffer the ecstasy of the animals, meaning

Are become insubstantial, reduced by a wind,
A breath of pine, and the woodsong fog
By this grace dissolved in place

What is this face, less clear and clearer
The pulse in the arm, less strong and stronger—
Given or lent? more distant than stars and nearer than the eye
Whispers and small laughter between leaves and hurrying feet
Under sleep, where all the waters meet.

Bowsprit cracked with ice and paint cracked with heat.
I made this, I have forgotten
And remember.
The rigging weak and the canvas rotten
Between one June and another September.
Made this unknowing, half conscious, unknown, my own.
The garboard strake leaks, the seams need caulking.
This form, this face, this life
Living to live in a world of time beyond me; let me
Resign my life for this life, my speech for that unspoken,
The awakened, lips parted, the hope, the new ships.

What seas what shores what granite islands towards my timbers
And woodthrush calling through the fog
My daughter.


My father died five years ago today and I am posting this poem because it reminds me of him. Marina was the daughter of Pericles and was lost at sea, so the poem is about fathers and daughters anyhow and the longing for a father and daughter to be reunited.
Although this poem is about a search or quest for the living, I think it is also about death. Death might be seen as the ultimate end and goal of all our quests, searches, endeavour and human longing. The futility of human endeavour seems to be suggested in the narrator’s half memory of making a boat,
“I made this, I have forgotten
And remember.
The rigging weak and the canvas rotten
Between one June and another September.
Made this unknowing, half conscious, unknown, my own.”
How much of our life and effort is “unknowing”, our work eroded by time? At the end of the poem, the material ship the narrator has built does not last and the physical world and the material things we cling to have to be “resigned” for new life, new hope, new ships, the journey that is death, through the mist to new and unknown shores.


  1. I do wish I could 'get into' poetry. I'm reading The Aeneid as my light reading (i.e. not academic) at present (!!!) and it is a real slog.

    I can manage the odd poem by Wilfred Owen or passages from Shakespeare but I really lament I can't take it any deeper. I will keep an eye out for similar posts - they might help me appreciate the medium a little more.

    A few weeks ago I braved putting Brahms' 1st synphony on the CD player. The first time I have played it for years as I played it the day I found out my uncle had died (I was very close to him) to drown out the sound of my sobbing (I lived in a flat at the time with paper thin walls). I couldn't bring myself to hear the synphony again because of the associate. I presume poems have a similar linkage?




  2. Poetry can be hard to "get into", I love poetry, but I can find that as well sometimes. Marina is NOT an easy poem. I love Eliot though, even when I don't understand him completely - and I suspect quite a lot of other people don't!

    I think that I approach this poem on rather a personal level - and ,yes, you're right, it does make me cry!