Let's begin by identifying some of the main themes of John Kinsella's poem "The Ocean Forests: An Elegy and Lament." The poem begins with a reflection on the ever-changing motion of nature. There is both beauty and instability in the ocean, and this motion leads to an earthquake "miles below the ocean's floor" and a "massive release of energy" with a "surge of water." We are invited to reflect on the grandeur of this event and this force that will soon interact with human beings.
The animals notice first. They are more in tune with nature than human beings are. Yet people, too, should see the water pull back farther than normal and take it as a sign of something to come. The poet then reflects a bit on human explanations of disasters and notions of prophecies and punishments. This is a foreshadowing of what is to come.
Again, the poet focuses on the processes of nature and how they come together to create events. Light, heat, current, atmosphere, earth, air, water—all are in motion. All are unstable and, to humanity, unpredictable. We search for answers, watch for signs, look at the world around us, yet we cannot know. We do not see. The earth holds mysteries we cannot grasp. We try to talk about it. Our culture tries to cope with it. Yet it is beyond our reach.
The last section of the poem deals with the event that the poem has been hinting at and building toward: tsunami. The poet is thinking of a particular tsunami, one in Sumatra that overwhelmed visitors and locals alike. Everyone became equal and equally in danger when the water surged up and swirled around and carried people away. No one knew how to deal with the ones lost. There were no bodies, apparently. They were swept out into the ocean. All was grief, cutting like the water. The poet ends with a question of how those left behind can celebrate the seasons after such a disaster. It seems impossible, perhaps, but the human spirit continues.