Long thoughts linger in the shallows,
lollygag along the beach
where the tidal waters whisper
lisp and slur their primal speech

where the ebbing wavelets licking
cling a moment to the land
spit their spume, leave little riddles
and blanched shells that suck the sand

edges shift in fickle fractals,
zig damp earth with zags of brine…
though on strolls here in the shallows
bare feet seem to toe a line

as if taunting trekker troopers
swooping seagulls squawk and yell
why is every footstep schlepping
its old burden… parallel?

One quick glance over a shoulder,
the horizon’s still out there…
oh, to lightly walk on water
or to gull-glide through the air

perpendicular to margins
on imaginary paths
of green beckoning blue sparkles
above dreadful depths of wrath…

still I turn now, stop in stillness
water clear, ground safe below,
standing easy in the shallows
staring where I dare not go…

there’s a staying thing that anchors
to the habits, terror strong,
stronger than the heart’s desiring
though desire lives deep and long.

84 responses »

    • Hello Shubha….are you still traveling? This poem is a Séadna—an Irish form that lends itself to sound— speaking and listening even more than silent reading. But to answer your question, I really don’t know which is better; I haven’t yet been to the deep end.

  1. Oh, there is so much to love about this poem Cynthia! First off, the wicked alliteration just grabs my attention and spins such a winsome web [!] But as always it is the thoughts within the lines that really sing to me. The depths that call ……….. You nailed it for me. xo

    • The Séadna is somewhat of a tour de force in English, Sharon, but I like the way it elicits the music of words whenever I play with it.
      I have followed it as strictly as possible but as you know in your own craftwork, little variations and tweaks happen here and there as the thing develops…and one allows the “ocean” to have its way. Is there any other choice? Here’s to some of those unanchored moments…

  2. Oh so good to be back again. Good one! To me, two distinct aspects. The description phase of the shallows was so well done as it stimulated my biological mind …. simply excellent … but then the shift to the emotional phase with personal thoughts. I found the shift to be unexpected – but much appreciated. Excellent work – simply excellent.

    • And it’s good to see that you’re back again, Frank! Thank you for your encouragement and for those thoughts about the two aspects of this; it’s especially interesting to me to know how someone with more scientific expertise in Biology might respond to a poem which describes these phenomena in a different way.

        • Though we’re both retired from teaching, it’s fun to imagine such an opening discussion, led by an English teacher and a Biology teacher together…there was never enough of that sort of teamwork, in my book…

  3. The unplumbable depths of desire.

    Poseidon, I am sure, would have been impressed by your nautical imagery–and only slightly miffed that you didn’t write about a bay colt loitering in a field of buttercups and then extemporaneously riding off into the sunset, for example, as Poseidon had a thing for horses, and, if memory serves, jumping up and down on his bed, a Craftmatic adjustable, full of concubines as the legend goes, and making the Richter scale swoon.

    • It would please me to impress Poseidon. (Don’t tell him I sometimes call him Neptune, behind his back.) I wouldn’t want him to feel I had short-changed him by neglecting to mention his talents other than nautical (I didn’t even know about some of the naughty-cal ones you describe) so I am quickly going to include here #22 of the Homeric Hymns, The Hymn to Poseidon:

      “I sing about Poseidon
      mover of the earth and fruitless sea,
      god of the deep who is also lord of Helicon and wide Aegae.
      A twofold office the gods allotted you,
      O Shaker of the Earth,
      to be a tamer of horses and a saviour of ships!
      Hail, Poseidon, Holder of the Earth, blue-haired lord!
      O blessed one, be kindly in heart
      and help those who voyage in ships!”

      There. That should stop the jumping up and down on his Craftmatic adjustable bed, and allow the concubines to get a little shut-eye.

      • Oh, Hestia, goddess of the vacuum cleaner and the dust pan, draw near, favorite concubine, and withal bestow grace upon Cynthia’s verse.

        • Thank you for that invocation….I need all the grace I can get.

          Hestia is such a good egg, isn’t she? Just last week we got together for our monthly Hestia, Athena and Artemis Afternoon Ouzo Opportunity, (The other two goddesses are well aware that I go by my epithet “Cynthia” in the current incarnation, but they still call me Artemis at meetings.)
          Anyway, last week we discussed the problem of our own group, i.e. that “triumvirate” is not a proper designation for us, since it refers to a trinity of males. We still haven’t come up with the feminine equivalent of the word “triumvirate” alas, though we polished off a small vessel of metaxa after the ouzo ran out.. We had to adjourn precipitously because Hermes swooped in to tell us the Olympian hearth fire was nearly out and Hestia had to rush away.

          • Thank you for the rather intoxicating minutes of your HAAAOO meeting, Artemis.

            Of course you are correct: triumvirate is all wrong. Naturally I have the correct word and will divulge it presently:

            First, a little history–Caesar, Crassus, and Pompey (three wonderful triumviri, just look at their headwear and elevated chins) were the original Triumvirate.

            But to answer your question, a trebling of goddesses (e.g., a trebling of goddesses at an uptown Tupperware party caused an incalculable sensation ) is called a treble. Trying not to overfill the Ouzo tumbler (this is known as a metaphor in writing circles and squares), here is another example from the annals–well, what bits I have–of English literature: Rocky, that treble of goddesses is real bad (Anthony Burgess, unpublished notes).

            I hope this clears things up for your readers, as they will be glad to have learned the correct usage of an old, high-pitched word–and there’s no need to thank me since I understand (eventually) that serving the public interest is a thankless job.

            • Oh Gee, Prospero, treble seems perfect. Not only is it satisfying as the proper clef for our triune tessitura, the very visual symbol is a calligraphic delight: it could be our logo! For myself, and on behalf of the other goddesses, thank you for once again guiding us to the high road, when everything else seems bass.

              • Oh, Gee sharp (why are you not called Aye flat?) I like to think in iconic terms and the treble clef is certainly a sight to behold (like those colorful containers so handy to keep leftovers of haggis and blood sausage). And remember, a treble of goddesses is always better than a ‘quatrain’ of reality TV hosts.

  4. I am staggered by this poem, dear Cynthia! You have left no oceanic nuance behind: I was transported body, mind, and soul to the places I love best for body, mind, and soul. And the poesy is so lovely, so brilliant, that I am reminded of all the reasons I love and am drawn to poetry; but that seem to elude me too often. Thanks for the return: on all counts! (And living in rural Ohio and not having been to the beach in years, I am more grateful still!) Just brilliant, dear lady. Thanks again and please keep up the good work. Such rich fodder makes one hungry for more, though I am quite satisfied from this rich gift, and venture that you’d never need write another word to prove your poet-worth after this one!

    • As a poet in your own right, you know not only the insecurity of putting work “out there” but also the great feeling of warmth and grace that can come from the kind words of an appreciative reader. I am very moved that the poem spoke so well to you, Amy, and thereby more convinced than ever that we are as much instruments being played, as players of our music….Joyce Kilmer said “only God can make a tree,” and it seems only that kind of confluence of power can bring the ocean to Ohio. As the British say, I am really chuffed, by your comment.

  5. Oh my gosh, the syncopated alliteration. There’s delight in the simple sounds of the poem and then there’s the longing–at least it seems to me–to be doing something differently, moving somewhere outward, elsewhere, other. So much discipline and knowledge goes into creating these verses in the different styles, Cynthia. It never ceases to give me a little thrill of amazement.

      • I am away from home right now. Trying to visit all the blogs I follow, but it doesn’t work well.
        Traditional Irish singing is ethereal, and yes, I noticed the Irish lilt 🙂 Beautiful poem!

            • It’s good to have a system that works for you. It is also true that if you want others to read your blog, you must reciprocate…some people don’t seem to understand this, and expect to have readers even though they never bother to read anyone else. In the end, enjoyment, learning about the world, and connecting with good people is a quality experience, and much more important than a huge quantity of “followers.”

              • Absolutely agree. I respect my readers and I am grateful for their interest in my blog. Of course I get back to them and show my appreciation. As a reward, I learn something new and connect with amazing people – isn’t it great! I would love to visit more often, but there are two hundred lovely people who regularly ‘like’ or comment on my blog, and I cannot be rude and ignore them. Wouldn’t be that rude in real life, right? 🙂

  6. I am unfamiliar with the machinations of a Séadna. Even after reading your scholarly explanation it remains hazy. Fortunately, I don’t think that it matters as I am able to savor and enjoy the alliteration, rhythm, rhyme, and sound of this poem. It is yet another winner from my special Boston, poet laureate. Your words conjure up the ocean and its continuous rhythmic movement – lovely; and I would also like to “gull-glide through the air.”

    • The machinations shouldn’t matter to a reader, and even cease to matter to me, once the thing takes off, so to speak, and begins to gull glide through the air. It’s best if machinations disappear, I think. The Séadna works a magic that seems almost inevitable, even as it is ineffable. I’m so glad you enjoyed it!

  7. Hi Cynthia ,l enjoyed the poem specially the old English phrases .l always try to take the safe path,take things as l see them and not to go beyond what l don’t see.Best regards.(l used a dictionary to find out the meaning of few words.)

  8. The sound of this poem is so swoonworthy—I don’t know if I can get beyond it at second reading to think of the sense behind it. It is simply beautiful: and, as we know, behind beauty is already loss and ephemerality.

    • And you, being no gubbins, are most sensitive to that truth about beauty. If, on the other hand, you come to think about the sense of it, it will be just what you say, Natalie. Have it your way. (With apologies to Wallace Stevens and Burger King.)

  9. The form is perfect for the ebb and flow of the sea – back and forth, back and forth. I’ve always thought of the sea as “a kinaesthetic masterpiece” – and I could probably use the same description for this masterful and beautiful poem.

    • I had not consciously thought of the sea as a kinesthetic masterpiece, but you are spot on…that’s just what it is. And that’s probably why it never ceases to draw us to continue to seek its company and write poems about it, as if there will never be enough of seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, or touching its mysteries.
      Reading your comment this morning, I feel honored by what you say, Bruce, and thank you very much for those kind words,

  10. Oh, what a work of words ! – such ALLITERATION, for starters. 🙂
    I adore that lollygagging – what a brilliant mixture of images it brings. And fickle fractals… I could go on about this one for bloody pages, Cynthia; so be grateful that all I do, instead, is tell you that I think you’re about the best wordsmith I know. XO

    • I can’t tell you what a delight it is to be called a wordsmith…it is my first and best definition of that other word—poet—which can be such a weasel word in so many instances, meaning such different things to different people. I love words. They are not static, dead, abstract things to me, but in their constant aesthetic changing and growing have often been my best friends. Remembering always that the word is not the thing itself, I love how they dance on that insecurity. I take them seriously, and they help me, always, not to take myself seriously. But I do go on….when all I started out to say was: thank you very much, dear M-R. I hope you are doing well. XO

  11. Words have their charm and their music . This poem is captivating and we believe to walk in the water of the sea along the beach with a lot of images through our mind.
    Love ❤

  12. Oh Cynthia! I think this is my new favorite of yours – one to be read over and over. And out loud. And meanings between the lines aren’t lost on me. Multi-layered, metaphorical, as well as your delightful imagery. I love this one to pieces! (And to wholeness.)

    • As time goes on I find that I speak my poems, in the composition process… even while I’m doing household chores, waiting for the kettle to boil, feeding the cat…almost as much as I sit with pen in hand or keyboard on my lap in the usual “I am now writing,” mode. Trying for a balance between an easy conversational rhythm, melodious sound, imagery, and subject seems to require moving about and speaking as well as sitting and pondering. Poetry and everyday life are not in separate boxes. That’s a long way of saying that I am really happy with what you say about the sound and reading aloud, but also that you can find more than that here, too. Wholeness..yes! Isn’t that what we are after each time? Thank you so much, Betty, for your comment. It makes me very happy!

      • Sounds like we have a similar composition style, Cynthia. Most of my poems are also written while in active mode – every day routines, chores – they all can present ideas, metaphors, analogies. Then I’ll write poetry in my head and finally have to stop everything to jot a few rough lines down (else they be lost!) “Sitting and pondering” seldom produce the same creative energy. (That comes during revision mode and usually lots of editing.) You’re so right when you say that poetry and everyday life are not in separate boxes! In fact, I’ve found that living IS the poetry that we must capture and interpret into words. It’s a full bodied experience, this writing of poetry, and includes the intuition as well.

        ANYway, I’m really happy that you liked my comment. 🙂 There is always a lot between the lines in any good poem – which I think is what entices us to both read and write it – and feel it!

  13. You know, Cynthia, I am format-blind, or format-deaf, I don’t know which but something like that. But I love to linger on the melody of your syllables falling like stardust into some pattern or other I am sure has some name somewhere. I understand the format is called Sédana.

    But, like I have said before, the puzzles in your lines stop me dead in the tracks: why is every footstep schlepping its old burden… parallel? Towards the end I perceive a death-wish being defied by anchors of rote. As usual, I head back to the opening stanza and find a new meaning in the words:
    Long thoughts linger in the shallows,
    lollygag along the beach
    where the tidal waters whisper
    lisp and slur their primal speech.

    • What a good comment for me to read here today, Uma. You touch on something that is always a preoccupation for me, i.e. the relation of form to subject. Ideally they should be impossible to separate, but we rarely come to that.

      I love to play the wordsmith with traditional English forms because they often bring out the uniqueness and best music of the language, as well as tugging at some strings of its long history…something in the DNA of native speakers—as today’s parlance might phrase it.

      The music of this particular poem seems to have pleased quite a few readers, but that’s not enough, as we both know. That’s the “how” of the poem. For readers like you (and me too) the “what” of the poem, and its voice are what we seek, within and beyond the form. It’s what makes poetry different from music. (Just as the music is what makes poetry different from philosophy.)

      This is a long way round of saying that the lines—with their intended meanings—which you have pointed to, and mused upon, are exactly those which express the genesis of this poem. I love how you read a poem…you never miss the real point. Thank you for that, my friend.

  14. Habit stronger than desire? That is how I read the last para. And indeed, what a nice way to put something most of us practice. As always, conjures up a vivid image for the reader. With a combination of desire and wistfulness.

  15. Greetings Cynthia,

    I stumbled across your post to Paul Beech, a cyber friend for the past year or so and a wonderful writer, poet and person.
    You posted a comment and he replied to you. There was something in your reply that moved me so I clicked on your blog. I started with ‘In The Shallows.’ I read it a few times and thoroughly enjoyed it. I say that because I am no a poetry buff, I have read poetry in my 73 years on this earth but your poem intrigued me, I love the ocean, however I fear the deep. Your poem describes exactly how I feel. It was amazing! I then saw the audio at the bottom and after a few minutes of fiddling with my computer was able to get it to work by downloading.

    It was wonderful to hear you read your poem. I could see and feel your poem so vividly.
    I am a writer, blogger as well but nothing close to what your are able to write.
    You have so many poems available here for me to enjoy so now I am following you,
    I look forward to reading and listening to your poems and will be back for sure,
    I humbly invite you to my blog. There might be something there that you will enjoy reading,

    • I am happy to find your comment here, Patricia, and glad to have found your blog also. The header photo at your site, of that beautiful little girl writing, is deeply evocative for me….right down to the little bird, the bottle of ink, and the steel pen! I look forward to following you as well.

      Thank you so much for your kind words.

    • What a nice thing to find your second visit here today! I’ve broken my weekly posting and commenting habits this month, for some R&R, but hope to be back to regular activity in September. When will you return to Ireland? Hope all is going well with you too, my friend.

      • Thank you so much, Cynthia! I am returning in the end of September. Everything seems all right now, but my daughter gave us all a big scare. She had got a postpartum pre-eclampsia four days after giving birth, and if she didn’t go to ER, the outcome would be devastating. She will be monitored another couple of weeks. The baby is grand, I will post a picture somewhere in my next blog :). Hope you have a nice and peaceful Sunday.

  16. I’m walking alongside the shore with you today Cynthia experiencing her with new eyes. Through your voice I can see and feel the majestic sea – you’ve painted her brilliantly with your brush stroke of words. This I love – it will stay with me for a long time. One day I’ll paint the sea again and you will be right along side me as we listen and watch, each standing with their own thoughts. I’ve missed your writing, but this was well worth the wait ~ my favorite dear Cynthia.

    • I’m glad we walked together on this shore, Mary, and I do think we share the love of the sea. I can tell that love by your beautiful paintings, so sensitively rendering its many moods. My break from posting has been a good thing—as you know it can be. After a four-year habit of posting every week, it seemed odd to go nearly a month without posting. Odd, but good. I realized that posting too often is not only a burden on oneself, but also on one’s regular readers. We need to slow the tempo and exposure to social media, so it doesn’t all become too crazy. Meanwhile, thank you for this lovely comment…from one of my dearest blogging friends. 🙂

    • And thank you very much for coming by to visit and comment. I assume by what you say that you have known Maine but now live somewhere else. I shall be over soon to visit your blog and see just where your dune light is….

  17. Love this – a thought-filled, word-filled, yet peaceful, walk between safety and desire in one of those spaces were there is room for both mind and body. It’s years since I was on a beach, but it feels like moments after reading this.

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