Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Sorrow and the Sea's Song

I had the unique pleasure of spending a week by the seaside a few months back. After doing a bit of walking to and fro on various sandy shores, my thoughts began to become somewhat melancholy in nature. None more so then after spending the afternoon on a small island off of the coast. I don't know if the locale caused it, or if it's something deep within our created being, but outside of awe, the other overriding emotion I experienced when surrounded by the sea was sorrow.   

One thing that has always intrigued me about the literary giants, like Tolkien and Lewis, was their fascination with the sea and songs about the sea. For example, in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by Lewis, it was in essence the song of the sea that drove the hounourable mouse Reepicheep to hunt for his home, Aslan's country. Yes, his journey into that country was joyful, but it was also tinged with sorrow. How about Tolkien's Middle-Earth? Where the song of the sea called the Elves home, and once they heard that call, their hearts yearned constantly for those shores. 

Just for clarification, I'm not here to start on some lengthy essay about the sea. My point is that something about the sea evokes songs, sorrowful and meaningful songs. Why? To be honest, I have no definite answer, but I have a few ideas... However, now is not the time.

So, for your perusal and hopeful pleasure, here are two verses from a poem Tolkien wrote about the sea. I encourage you to look the rest of the poem up! Prepared to have your dreams haunted. And, ironically enough, this poem is taken from his lesser known book "Tales from the Perilous Realm." How fitting a title.

The Sea Bell

v. 1
I walked by the sea, and there came to me
as a star-beam on the wet sand,
a white shell like a sea-bell;
trembling it lay in my wet hand.
In my fingers shaken I heard waken
a ding within, by a harbour bar
a buoy swinging, a call ringing 
over endless seas, faint now and far.

Then I saw a boat silently float
on the night-tide, empty and grey.
'It is later than late! Why do we wait?'
I leapt in and cried: 'bear me away!'
It bore me away, wetted with spray,
wrapped in a mist, wound in a sleep,
to a forgotten strand in a strange land.
In the twilight beyond the deep
I heard a sea-bell swing in the swell, 
dinging, dinging, and the breakers roar
on the hidden teeth of a perilous reef;
and at last I came to a long shore. 
White it glimmered, and the sea simmered
with star-mirrors in a silver net;
cliffs of stone pale as a ruel-bone
in the moon-foam were gleaming wet.
Glittering sand slid through my hand,
dust of pearl and jewel-grist,
trumpets of opal, roses of coral,
flutes of green and amethyst.

-J.R.R. Tolkien, Tales from the Perilous Realm: The Adventures of Tom Bombadil.

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