The poem is narrated by someone standing on a shore, watching the waves break. This narrator views the waves and sea foam and thinks about Hermes. Hermes, the speaker says, faces three ways (perhaps referring to his triple roles as messenger between gods and humans, trickster, and guardian of travelers).
Hermes is described as "welcoming wayfarers" and being protected by the "sea-orchard." His role seems very uncertain to the speaker.
In the second part of the poem, the speaker seems to await someone. The poem conveys a sense of vulnerability or uncertainty. The apples of the trees near the shoreline are too small and hard, and the boughs of the trees are twisted. The trees seem small and are not able to offer much protection or nurturance. They cast shadows, but there is no shadow of a ship—this detail suggests that the speaker is looking for a ship on the horizon.
In the final stanza, the speaker addresses Hermes, while the sea is described in malevolent terms as "gnash[ing] its teeth." Hermes—messenger, trickster and possible protector—waits with the narrator, but what are they waiting for?
H.D., an imagist, stripped away the excessive description of Victorian poetry to write spare verse. While she offers us a series of images of sea and land and evokes the Greek god Hermes, she suggests, rather than clearly explicates, a story, leaving us to sink into her images as images and to construct our own interpretations of what is going on in terms of narrative. To my mind, the speaker is in front of the ocean awaiting a ship that she is very uncertain will arrive, addressing the god Hermes, who she is aware may or may not help the ship come safely to shore.