Sunday, June 21, 2009

Sunday School

We've been paying our respects to the Atlantic Ocean. There is something needful and reassuring about an entity that resists and curbs our destructiveness. Sure, we have been doing appalling things to the ocean for a long time now, but ultimately we can't destroy it without destroying ourselves. And along with the sky, it is the only vista routinely available that can take one back a billion years perhaps--the view is the same. I can't seem to locate the quote, but I remember coming across an observation by Lewis Thomas to the effect that, seen from space, the planet's true name ought to be, not Earth, but Ocean.

I don't even mind the shoreside kitsch like I used to, because it will always be overwhelmed by the sea's solemnity. We came from there, biology tells us--seawater runs in our arteries--yet it is a liquid desert to us now, not at all hospitable. There is a fascination with vast, deceptively simple things that are in reality infinitely complex--the ocean; deep space; death, perhaps. And unlike some other notions of plenitude, the ocean has the distinct advantage of indubitably existing. True, the water is implacable, caring nothing about us, but that can be a comfort. If an omnipotent being were to take a special interest in us, it may not be a good thing; there are worse fates than being ignored.

It's also the title of a wicked Led Zeppelin song, not to mention the subject of a sublime essay ("The Star Thrower") by Loren Eiseley.

This favorite Marianne Moore poem came to mind (with some formatting adjustments thanks to the annoying Blogger platform):

A Grave

Man looking into the sea,
taking the view from those who have as much right to it as you have to
it is human nature to stand in the middle of a thing,
but you cannot stand in the middle of this;
the sea has nothing to give but a well excavated grave.
The firs stand in a procession, each with an emerald turkey-foot at the
reserved as their contours, saying nothing;
repression, however, is not the most obvious characteristic of the sea;
the sea is a collector, quick to return a rapacious look.
There are others besides you who have worn that look--
whose expression is no longer a protest; the fish no longer investigate
for their bones have not lasted:
men lower nets, unconscious of the fact that they are desecrating a
and row quickly away--the blades of the oars
moving together like the feet of water-spiders as if there were no such
thing as death.
The wrinkles progress among themselves in a phalanx--beautiful under
networks of foam,
and fade breathlessly while the sea rustles in and out of the seaweed;
the birds swim through the air at top speed, emitting cat-calls as
the tortoise-shell scourges about the feet of the cliffs, in motion
beneath them;
and the ocean, under the pulsation of lighthouses and noise bell-
advances as usual, looking as if it were not that ocean in which dropped
things are bound to sink--
in which if they turn and twist, it is neither with volition nor


leigh said...

I have lived in a house on a cove in Maine for 18 years. We have a lighthouse view. In ten days we are moving inland. Do you know John Brehm? Here is a poem of his...Also, Sea of Faith, about teaching Dover Beach.

Retriever said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I can watch Wrightsville beach NC
where a family member lives on the
blockade runner website from my
loft in Mid-Town Manhattan, close as
we get to the ocean these days!
Other members live at Atlantic Beach 24/7 lucky them,po'working artist me.