Discuss the poem "Seascape" by Stephen Spender.

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carol-davis | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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 In the poem " Seascape: In Memoriam, M.A.S.," Stephen Spender conveys characteristic aspects of the sea. The poet emphasizes the power and  deceptive nature of the sea over mankind.

The author uses several literary devices to capture the beauty of the ocean.  The poem has 26 lines divided into 4 irregular stanzas.  Lies, land, wire-- these three words bind the rhyme scheme. The most lyrical of all instruments, the harp simile, representing the soothing ocean, spans the entire poem. The alliteration of “wanders on water, walking” contributes to the soft, flowing sound effect, consonant with the poem’s tone of mourning and sadness

The final sentences of the poem employ heroic and allusive vocabulary choices to announce the deaths of the “zig-zag butterflies." It begins with this enjambed sentence:

 Until they fall into reflected skies.

They drown. Fishermen understand

 Such wings sunk in ritual sacrifice...

The poem revolves around the notion of sound as a means of conveying the different faces of the sea. Described as happy, the ocean lies soothingly smooth,  reflecting the bright sun on a lazy afternoon.  However, in contrast with the deceptive harp simile,  the use of the mirror as a metaphor for the ocean illustrates its pretentious effort to be something it is not. The ocean has the potential for power and requires only the slightest change to create a force capable of "ritual sacrifice."

Describing the shores with  celebratory heaps of roses, horses, and spires--the contrast of the shore controlled by man and the ocean with nothing to restrict it establishes the potential for risk.   The harsh but beautiful example of the zip-zag butterflies, who spiral as they fly through the sky and dip to close to the sea drowning without emotion, supports the theme of the subtle danger of the water.

The final stanza recalls legends of the city of Atlantis swallowed by the ocean and other seaman who have lost their lives consumed by a watery grave. The bodies of the sailors with their coins for the ferryman shine lie below the harp, silently sighing wishing to be played. 



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