Seaweed

by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

When descends on the Atlantic
The gigantic
Storm wind of the equinox
Landward in his wrath he scourges
The toiling surges,
Laden with seaweed from the rocks.
From Bermuda’s reefs; from edges
Of sunken ledges
In some far-off, bright Azore;
From Bahama, and the dashing,
Silver-flashing
Surges of San Salvador;

From the trembling surf that buries
The Orkneyan skerries
Answering the hoarse Hebrides;
And from wrecks of ships, and drifting
Spars, uplifting
On the desolate, rainy seas

Ever drifting, drifting, drifting
On the shifting
Currents of the restless main;
Till in sheltered coves and reaches
Of sandy beaches,
All have found repose again.

So when storms of wild demotion
Strike the ocean
Of the poet’s should, ere long
From each cave and rocky fastness,
In its vastness,
Floats some fragment of a song:

From the far-off isles enchanted,
Heaven has planted
With the golden fruit of Truth;
From the flashing surf, whose vision
Gleams Elysian
In the tropic clime of Youth;

From the strong Will, and the Endeavor
That forever
Wrestles with the tides of fate;
From the wreck of Hopes far-scattered,
Tempest-shattered,
Floating waste and desolate

Ever drifting, drifting, drifting,
On the shifting
Currents of the restless heart;
Till at length in books recorded,
They, like hoarded
Household words, no more depart.

 

 


Title:

Seaweed

Poet:

Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth

Year of Publication:

1845

Age Appropriate:

13+

Category:

Life

Form:

Didactic

Type:

Moral

Meter:

Tetrameter lines

Rhyme:

aabccb; the three base rhythm was used to support nonfrivolous subjects as a 19th century prosodic phenomenon.

Literary Period:

American Romantic

Things to Discuss:

Why did the poet choose “seaweed”. We know that it is a “weed” and as such is capable of spreading indiscriminately. It can be both harmful and helpful. Harmful it chokes waterways; helpful it contains vitamins, minerals and fiber and can be eaten with great benefit. Edgar Allan Poe once wrote that “in the hands of a true artist the theme is but a mass of clay of which anything may be fashioned according to the skill of the artist...Genius is manifested in the choice of the clay.” Is Longfellow’s clay in this poem, seaweed? If not what is the concept to be grasped? What does the poet mean by “household words, “elysium” ; are they significant, do they mean something or are they just a poetic fit ?” What is the moral the poet is presenting?

About the Poet:

Longfellow (1807-1882) wrote most of his works in narrative form as a way of supporting American mythology. He was professor at Cambridge University. Longfellow belonged to a group of 19th century writers called The Fireside Poets. They were the first choice of the public; very conventional in form and sentimental in content. Longfellow was the first American poet whose bust appears in Westminster Abbey’s Poet’s Corner.