Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE WAVE, by LOUIS UNTERMEYER



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THE WAVE, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: There was the sea again! The laughing sea
Last Line: Sweeping me out of languor back to life.
Alternate Author Name(s): Lewis, Michael
Subject(s): Sea; Ocean


There was the sea again! The laughing sea,
Breathing its fresh and salty invitation;
Clapping its great, green hands and calling me
To pit my strength against its energy
And match its vigor with my own elation.
Impatiently it drummed upon the shore
And, having yearned for it a year or more,
I whipped the clothing from my eager body;
Flinging aside my threadbare thoughts, the shoddy
Fears and lethargic fancies of a day
Heavy with subterfuge and the decay
Of sophistries that only cheat themselves.
I heard the tide come racing down the sands,
Pounding a summons on the rocky shelves;
A savage welcome in its vehement roar.
I sprang out on the beach and slammed the door
As though to keep the humid world shut in.
I felt the salt winds sniffing at my skin,
The white-caps beckoning me with gay commands;
And, pulled along by unseen, rescuing hands,
I sprang into the water, once more free. . . .
Something had snapped the harsh, invisible bands --
It was the sea again, the laughing sea!

Out past the life-lines where the sea grew calm
I floated, dreaming, on a watery breast,
Of wonder with its secret unexpressed,
And beauty singing its unwritten psalm . . .
Its healing bathed me with the balm Of rest.

I dreamed -- and then, shocked from my languid mood,
I heard new rumblings threaten and increase.
This deadening quiet was a false release;
The clouds became an evil, black-winged brood . . .
I must escape this torpitude Of peace.

I struck out swiftly toward the land,
Hand over hand;
Scooping at wastes of sea that flowed
Out of my reach,
Missing the silver line that showed
The beach.
I turned face-downward as I tried
A shorter stroke;
The breakers flung me on my side
And broke
Over me while the spume was churned . . .
The tide had turned!

Desperate now, I threshed my arms about
In a sharp trudgeon till a burning pain
Ran through my ankles that kept plunging out.
Harder I kicked, and slower; but in vain --
The tide kept pulling, and I made no gain.
The beach was empty and my smothered shout
Fell on the thunders with no greater stir
Than leaves on warring waters. And the rain
Came with a mocking gentleness, a purr
Of protest at my struggles. Doubly dear
Though life was then, the fervor of it passed;
The leaping radiance ebbed, and even fear
No longer struck with its insistent spur.
This frantic burst of power could not last.
I felt my body slipping -- slipping -- and
A giant roller started toward the land,
Sweeping the ocean with it as it came
And seized me with a swift and iron hand.
I floundered in a world of cold, green flame
And drank its icy hatred; heard my name
Under the thunder. I was ground and tossed
In some malignant mill-race; light was lost --
All I could see were hands, dark hands; a score
Of whirling tentacles that lifted, tore
And pulled me down again . . . and down . . . and down . . .
I thought, is this the way that swimmers drown?

Some one was lifting me; some others bore
My limping body up the reeling shore
And voices coming out of nowhere cried
"That's what a fellow gets for being brave . . ."
"The trouble is, that there's a tricky tide . . ."
"Old man, you had a pretty durn close shave . . ."

And how it happened I can never see.
All I remember is a thundering wave
That came and caught me in security
And, in a breath,
Despairing of a softer remedy,
Forced me through war and death
To rescue me.
Stinging my soft complacence into strife;
Sweeping me out of languor back to life.





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