Tall Story

seablog2

The first poem I ever loved was Sea Fever by John Masefield. Something about the opening lines intrigued me, although I was too young to understand why. For years, I thought it was the jaunty rhythm, the romantic imagery.

It was only later I began to understand the nature of compulsion; the need to return to a place over and over. For me, like the sailor in Masefield’s poem, that place is the sea.

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.

I’m lucky to live close to the sea: a five-minute drive brings me to Sandymount Strand; a fifteen-minute drive to Dollymount. On days when I can’t decide which side of the bay I want to be on, I walk to the Red Lighthouse and stand in the middle.

Tall Ships Dublin 2012

I have no desire to board a ship. Or travel. To me, the sea is most lovely when I’m walking beside it, tasting its sting. (These days, I’m not so enamoured of regular rhythm, at least in poetry. But the regular rhythm of the sea? Absolutely.)

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I find a particular pleasure in standing on the shore, watching the ships come and go. The ships are mostly car ferries or container ships, but every now and then the Tall Ships arrive and Masefield’s poem comes alive before my eyes.

I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.

The Tall Ships are due back in Dublin this summer, and my son is hoping to crew on one of them.

I must show him Masefield’s poem.

Tall Ships

 

 

 

I’m glad you’re taking photos

Last night, you fell asleep to wind and rain; this morning, a cornflower-blue sky, still as stone.

You knew the beach would be beautiful today; light glancing off channels and pools, a mile of space between you and the sea.

(You didn’t know it would be this beautiful.)

You begin to walk the promenade, starting at the Mexican statue.  It will take twelve hundred steps to reach the end of the promenade, five hundred steps to reach the Martello Tower.

You like the Martello Tower, the strength of its construction. Oak beams support nine-foot wide granite walls. You like the Tower’s vigilance; its steadfast insistence on watching, waiting.  Two hundred years and counting.

You pass the remains of the Victorian Baths. You’ve seen old photographs of the pier that once connected the baths to the shore; sepia-toned images of elegant iron and timber. The pier’s heyday was short-lived: opened in 1884, demolished in 1920.

You turn at the end of the promenade. Two winters ago, you stood here and watched a flock of knot shape-shift in the evening sun. The birds rose and fell in unison, flashed black and silver as they swooped and turned.

You walk back towards the Tower, take your camera from your bag. A woman stops to say hello. “I’m glad you’re taking photos,” she says. You step onto the beach, puzzled by her comment.

You walk towards the sea, each step taking you farther from people, houses, cars.

You think about the oystercatchers and terns that make their home on the beach; the cockles and lugworms that lie within its sand. You think about the people who walk here, the children who play here; the buildings that have survived and the buildings that have disappeared.

You think about the woman who wants a stranger to make a record of it all.

You walk towards the cornflower-blue horizon and wonder what to do with all the space that’s opening up in front of you, all the time that’s closing in behind you.

Sandymount Strand

Sandymount Strand

Sandymount Strand stretches for 5 kilometres from Ringsend to Booterstown. It’s internationally important for the large number of birds it supports, including waders, terns and geese. 

At low tide, the beach extends 1.5 kilometres from the shoreline, offering city dwellers space, solitude, and wonderful views across Dublin Bay.

The promenade was added in the 1970s and is  a popular spot for walkers and joggers. On Christmas morning, it’s full of kids trying out their  new bikes.The Mexican Statue is called An Cailín Bán. It was denoted to Ireland in 2002 by the Mexican government and is the work of sculptor Sebastian. The Martello Tower was built in 1804 to protect against a Napoleanic invasion. It’s unusual in its construction – resting on oak beams rather than rock. All that remains of the Victorian Baths is the concrete substructure. 

Sandymount Strand is famous as a setting for two of the episodes in James Joyce’s Ulysses. 

But you knew that, didn’t you?