Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

As the title of this prose poem suggests, its prevailing theme is death, specifically the impending death of a beached seal, a victim of an oil spill. Its body, sleek with oil, rests on the beach resembling something inanimate, in Bly’s words, “a brown log.” There is still life in the seal. Despite its hopeless situation, it struggles to stay alive, clings to the small flicker of life that remains within it.

The seal becomes a metaphor for something larger. Through implication and subtle references, Bly suggests that the industrial-technological complex that has landed the seal in its present plight may indeed be threatening human life as well. Bly uses the last lines of this stirring prose poem to suggest this possibility. He implies that the seal, in death, will have a new life, one in which it will again swim “in long loops through the pure death, ducking under as assassinations break above you.”

Bly uses two of his ten Point Reyes poems to comment on contemporary issues. “Finding a Salamander on Inverness Ridge,” in which Bly decries the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, is a political poem that does not work fully because it fails to sustain a dialectical tension. “The Dead Seal near McClure’s Beach,” however, is a more subtle poem and lends itself better to poetic prose than the earlier poem does.

In this poem, Bly sketches a vivid word picture, invoking his readers’ sympathy with the beached seal but...

(The entire section is 433 words.)