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Robert Crawford

(1868 - 13 January 1930 / Australia)

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A Song Of The Sea.


Here within the half-light 'tween the night and day
Upon the sands I lie, with thoughts that idly stirr'd
Seem, as in a dream, with life and death to play,
As o'er the sea there flits a pale white bird.
In my heart I hear it, the murmur of the sea,
Ah! and memories of other lives are stirr'd,
As somewise there came a mystic voice to me
As o'er the sea there flits a pale white bird.
Who but knows that in me is a ghost that hears
A voice it heard of old in the primeval word —
A memory so dim, it like a dream appears
As o'er the sea there flits a pale white bird!

Submitted: Wednesday, April 21, 2010

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  • Terence George Craddock (7/16/2012 4:31:00 AM)

    'A Song Of The Sea' by Robert Crawford is an interesting poem. The title suggests a song about the sea which does not eventuate. The first four lines contain several phrases that can symbolize death and these possible metaphors are extended throughout the poem. In line one 'half-light' can mean the darkness described by people moments before they die and the speaker is 'within the half-light'; while night and day can also mean life and death. The speaker is lying on the sands at dusk, but is this the dusk of twilight, or the dusk of a life with the final sands almost run out? The image of 'thoughts that idly stirr'd', might suggest the last breath of life, a faint weak breath; 'Seem, as in a dream, ' and 'with life and death to play, ' further suggests memories in the last moments of life.
    These four lines conclude with a 'pale white bird' flirts over the sea. Death flirts where and as it wills and in European culture, a bird is often considered a harbinger of war, death, disaster, or pestilence. The sea the bird flirts over, is also a grave of the dead, the dead the sea will not give up before judgement day. Pale reminds of dead and people go pale before death. Scenes of nature yes, but why not a seagull, if there is no intended metaphors of death?
    Crawford now personalizes the speaker’s experience with 'In my heart I hear it, ' but what 'murmur of the sea' is felt? Immediately the previously hinted at strange mysterious twilight, intensifies into the macabre; with 'Ah! and memories of other lives are stirr'd, ' other lives remembered with 'As somewise there came a mystic voice to me'. What does this voice say and mean as 'As o'er the sea there flits a pale white bird' is repeated.
    In the final four lines the speaker clearly reveals a ghoulish presence and asks 'Who but knows that in me is a ghost that hears...’? This ghost 'A voice it heard of old in the primeval word —/ A memory so dim, it like a dream appears'. What the meaning of 'primeval word' and the 'memory so dim' is, is not revealed, but 'a dream appears'; directly links back to the 'Seem, as in a dream' of the first lines. The final line, the thrice repeated 'As o'er the sea there flits a pale white bird! ' with now an exclamation mark; suggests a supernatural 'Song Of The Sea' repeating of mystic significance.
    Anyone care to extend this possible reading of the poem or with other readings? I am interested in thoughts by other poets. (Report) Reply

  • Ramesh T A (7/16/2012 3:20:00 AM)

    White bird flying over sea looks like in a dream a ghost reminding the scary moments of past and future it seems! Image is very impressive in this poem! (Report) Reply

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