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Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Poem: The Dry Salvages from Four Quartets

The Dry Salvages is a small group of rocks, with a beacon, off the New England coast of Cape Ann, Massachusetts. Salvages is prounced to rhyme with assuages. Eliot, as a boy, spent many summers on Eastern Point with his family in a house across from Niles Beach.

I do not know much about gods; but I think that the river
Is a strong brown god--sullen, untamed and intractable,
Patient to some degree, at first recognised as a frontier;
Useful, untrustworthy, as a conveyor of commerce;
Then only a problem confronting the builder of bridges.
The problem once solved, the brown god is almost forgotten
By the dwellers in cities--ever, however, implacable,
Keeping his seasons and rages, destroyer, reminder
Of what men choose to forget. Unhonoured, unpropitiated
By worshippers of the machine, but waiting, watching and waiting.
His rhythm was present in the nursery bedroom,
In the rank ailanthus of the April dooryard,
In the smell of grapes on the autumn table,
And the evening circle in the winter gaslight.

The river is within us, the sea is all about us;
The sea is the land's edge also, the granite
Into which it reaches, the beaches where it tosses
Its hints of earlier and other creation:
The starfish, the hermit crab, the whale's backbone;
The pools where it offers to our curiosity
The more delicate algae and the sea anemone.
It tosses up our losses, the torn seine,
The shattered lobsterpot, the broken oar
And the gear of foreign dead men. The sea has many voices,
Many gods and many voices.

The salt is on the briar rose,

The fog is in the fir trees.

The sea howl
And the sea yelp, are different voices
Often together heard; the whine in the rigging,
The menace and caress of wave that breaks on water,
The distant rote in the granite teeth,
And the wailing warning from the approaching headland
Are all sea voices, and the heaving groaner
Rounded homewards, and the seagull:
And under the oppression of the silent fog
The tolling bell
Measures time not our time, rung by the unhurried
Ground swell, a time
Older than the time of chronometers, older
Than time counted by anxious worried women
Lying awake, calculating the future,
Trying to unweave, unwind, unravel
And piece together the past and the future,
Between midnight and dawn, when the past is all deception,
The future futureless, before the morning watch.
When time stops and time is never ending;
And the ground swell, that is and was from the beginning,
The bell.


  1. I was startled by the word "groaner." That was — still is, I suppose — the nickname for the Newcomb's Ledge whistle buoy. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NSEEM_U2jvs
    At times it does seem to groan, and at times it is surely audible from Eastern Point.

    Newcomb's Ledge, over which the buoy sits, is perhaps a mile toward Gloucester from Halfway Rock. http://www.satelliteviews.net/cgi-bin/g.cgi?fid=614747&state=MA&ftype=bar Click "map" and zoom out to see where it is in relation to you. Halfway Rock is the spot to the southwest, more clearly visible before you zoom out.

  2. Huh! Someone was just asking me this morning about the groaning out in the ocean last night. He realized it was not from thunderclaps and probably not from a ship, but he couldn't place it. I will check it out on the map.

    Also, I just discovered today that the bull seals hang out on Thatcher Island. We see an occasional female or pup, but mostly they are further north this time of year.