Saturday, April 16, 2005

Home is the Sailor Home from the Sea

Among my favorite poems, written by my favorite poet, A.E. Housman (1859-1936) is the following:

Home is the sailor, home from sea:
Her far-borne canvas furled
The ship pours shining on the quay
The plunder of the world.

Home is the hunter from the hill:
Fast in the boundless snare
All flesh lies taken at his will
And every fowl of air.

'Tis evening on the moorland free,
The starlit wave is still:
Home is the sailor from the
sea,
The hunter from the hill.

I still remember how powerfully these verses came to mind when I returned to my parents’ home on Sands Point, Long Island after my first navy deployment as a 4th class midshipman on the battleship U.S.S. Wisconsin. The deployment was like a boot camp at sea, often arduous, painful and demeaning – as boot camps are intended to be. I can remember how secure and safe I felt entering the precincts of my parents’ gracious and elegant home, late in the evening. This despite the fact that as a teen ager and young adult, times spent with my mother, a brilliant, vivacious woman, but of mercurial temperament were often contentious and unhappy. (My father, who I have come to know much better as an adult – he is now 94 – was, then, mostly in the background).

I was reminded of Houseman’s poem today as I turned to my country “home” on Faquier, after a month long separation engendered by a two week trip to Sri Lanka and a two week long nearly immobilizing bout with bronchitis. Like my parents’ home the precincts of this dwelling place are gracious, elegant and, in their physical setting, tranquil.

Couples who face periodic separations, due to work, travel, or military obligations must cope with an ongoing process of adaptation and re-adaptation. Those of us who served in the navy, with extended times at sea, are particularly familiar with the challenge. The two elements of the “couple” grow apart and become independent. The ties biding them together may be as much a matter of commitment (“until death do us part” ; “so long as we both shall live”), convenience and financial need as of affection, intimacy and mutual respect. Reestablishing the bonds that once brought them together takes work, “quality time” and a commitment to give and take. But the strength and temperaments that make independent living possible, in the face of separations, make rebonding more difficult.

In my mind, Housman’s concluding verse captures a universal yearning – of sailors hunters; of all of us – for a home of peace, tranquility, intimacy and unconditional acceptance.

But note that Housman, characteristically, ends his poem on that note of yearning. He omits a concluding verse that might have described what life was like for his sailor and hunter when they actually returned home.

6 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a bit confused on the poem you quoted, "Home is the Sailor Home From the Sea". It seems a lot like Robert Louis Stevenson's poem. Which of these poets was thr first to write the words, "Home is the sailor, home from the sea, And the hunter home from the hill"? Thanks for your help.

12:38 AM  
Anonymous Peter Holttum UK said...

I am likewise confused as to who first wrote these words, being also aware of both poets having done so.

10:15 AM  
Anonymous Peter Holttum said...

http://www.chiark.greenend.org.uk/~martinh/poems/housman_faq.html

This FAQ on AE Housman confirms the words were written by Stevenson. Housman's poem is a tribute to Stevenson who appears on the tile as RLS. So it was credited.

In any event, I found dormgranpops blog very insightful on an issue that has not affected me personally. I found it while seeking to resolve by google who first wrote the lovely words.

10:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In a few days, I will be the sailor home from the sea after 150 days assigned to a mideast run container ship. I can identify with the description of separated couples. In successful merchant marine marriages, there is a woman equally as strong and independent as the seagoing partner. In our 33 year marriage, my wife has sold 2 homes and given birth to 2 of our 3 daughters while I was at sea. She has been the role model and source of strength for our daughters and the beacon that guides me safely home.

3:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

G'pa, bumped into your page when looking up "home is the sailor...".... I too was a 4th class Midshipman and sailed in the USS Purdy along with the USS Wisconsin, about the same time as you, from guessing your age. The year was 1954 and we stopped at Dublin, Ireland and Portsmouth, England that year. I remember the Whisky firing at drones and sleds with some 48 barrels of 40 mm rounds.... per side... What year did you sail in the Whisky?

5:45 AM  
Anonymous Paul Matzner US said...

I wonder if eh predatory nature of the Housman poem comes through. The ship lays its plunder on the quay and the hunter his prey, "All flesh lies taken at his will
And every fowl of air."

The poem is tinged with a sense of regret and perhaps even anger,

1:21 AM  

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