Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Sailor - Geof Hewitt

In my movie the boat goes under
And he alone survives the night in the cold ocean,
Swimming he hopes in a shoreward direction.
Daylight and he's still afloat, pawing the water
And doesn't yet know he's only fifty feet from shore.
He goes under for what will be the last time
But only a few feet down scrapes the bottom.
He's suddenly a changed man and half hops, half swims
The remaining distance, hauls himself waterlogged
Partway up the beach before collapsing into sleep.
As he dreams the tide comes in
And rolls him back to sea.

Talk about snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.  A heartbreaking account of a struggle for life, the part of this poem I find the most vexing and curious is the first line.  "In my movie" it starts.  Is the poet a screenwriter, talking about the heartbreaking ending he has planned for the unwitting protagonist?  Or is he talking about his own personal experience.  As in, "in the movie of my life" I struggled, faltered, and right as success seemed certain, I fell tragically.  It could always be both, of course, but it's interesting to think about those two presentations.

This poem is a good reminder of how gripping and exciting a poem can be.  It reads almost like a script, fittingly, and really pushes forward.  Short, terse statements add to frenzied pace, and we feel the struggle of the sailor.  The word placement for "hauls himself waterlogged partway up the beach" really feels like an effort, versus "he hauled himself up the beach, waterlogged."  We really feel the weight of the sailor in the words and order there.  The tragic ending is delivering in a short, almost sing-song rhythm couplet, emphasizing the quiet rhythm of the tide that steals the sailor away from life.  What an effect!

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