Poetry

O’NEILL AND THE SEA

I.

The greatest metaphor of them all

In the end stands only for the rise and fall

Of itself. The tides, boats and sailors,

Even the seagulls, symbolize the great substitution

Of one reality for another

Of gray skies for bad weather

Or trouble, which it is.

The sea rolls over itself

A compass in a gale that can never fail,

As timeless as a ship in the distance

That doesn’t move

Then is gone in a moment,

In the sweep of a gull’s wing overhead

As the sea rolls back into place.

A ring-billed gull stands still as a statue out on the jetty

As fishermen lash bait into the surf

And the spray seems to answer them

Thrown against the rocks.

The tide withdraws and all are there,

The sandpipers sweeping a vast apron of sand,

The couples and families and loners

watching them in the twilight.

II.

O’Neill was the last sea writer to summon

The waves to obey him as he told his tale,

Scanning horizons and charts,

Bound for Wales or Argentina,

Swedes, Wobblies, black sheep

From New England farms, young, old,

Confident, crazy, an occasional accused spy.

Whatever information the sea held

Was hidden in the pace of the waves,

The endless push and struggle and swelling

Of the water to overtake itself, become

More than it was or ever could reach

Before settling for the old tidal release and return

To the depths to gather strength.

— This poem appears in the September 8, 2014, issue of National Review.

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