‘On the Beach’ describes a cruel incident that happened on the beach. It is seen some boys making fun of a puppy by torturing it on the sand. Though the poem is a simple one to read, there are multiple layers of meaning. The simple yet disturbing context of the poem reveals a harsh truth. From an early age, humans have this basic urge to laugh at someone’s distress. Philosophers across the globe throw light on this dark side of the human mind and think every human has this inherent dark side. However, the motive behind writing this poem is to alert young readers not to indulge in such inhumane acts.
This poem takes place on the beach in clear daylight. In this poem’s context, three boys and a puppy are there. Those boys have a rope and a stick to torture that innocence. What is mere “play” for them, becomes insufferable torture for the innocent animal that doesn’t even have the ability to yelp. However, the poem ends on a horrid note. Ranasinghe writes, “They cry let’s/ play/ At burying him/ And then/ They bury him.” Readers can sense what might have happened with the helpless creature.
You can read the full poem here.
This poem is 31 lines long and has uneven line-length. Some lines describing the plot are long and some lines are comparably short. Those short lines are meant for emphasizing the words especially. As an example, in the last section of the poem, the word “play” stands alone in a line. Here, the poet emphasizes this word and depicts a symbolic meaning. Apart from that, it is a free verse poem without having any specific rhyme. The flow of the poem gets maintained by the use of internal rhymings. However, the poem is mostly composed of iambic feet.
The poet begins her poem with a metaphor in the phrase, “the crash/ Of the morning waves.” Thereafter, she uses personifies in the following line. Here, she personifies the “sunlight”. Anne also uses metonymy in this poem. As an example, the “rope” is a metonym for torture. Moreover, there is a synecdoche in the line, “And helpless anger.” Here, the poet presents the abstract idea, “anger” to portray the helplessly angry creature suffering on the beach. Apart from that, from line 16 to line 18, the poet presents anaphora. There is an allusion to the holocaust in the line, “The alien years.” The poem ends with the use of alliteration and irony as well.
Neither the crash
Of the morning waves
Torture on the beach.
The poem begins by directly presenting the plot of the poem that is the sea beach. The use of the words “crash”, “drown”, and “yelps” create the tone and mood of the poem. However, in the first section of ‘On the Beach’, the poet depicts “Three boys, one puppy” and “A rope.” Those boys are torturing the helpless puppy. As an effect, it yelps haplessly on the beach. However, the poet ironically says that neither the crashing waves nor the sound of the wind can drown its yelps. After reading the next few sections of the poem, readers will get to know that the waves and the wind have drowned its voice. Whatsoever, this section contains an ironic representation of the cruel act that happened on the beach.
His agony rips
Dark holes in your eyes
The sand fills his nose
The sand fills his ears
In the following section of the poem, Ranasinghe says that the creature’s agony rips dark holes in the eyes of the torturers. It means that such a pathetic incident can hurt a person deeply. Moreover, the poet says the helpless creature twists on the hand of those boys as they noose the rope tighter. Along with that, they beat the puppy with a thin stick. Each time the blow strikes harder. This sadistic act does not stop here. They even throw sand on it until the sand fills its eyes, nose, and ears.
And though your tears
Taste salt in my mouth
They bury him.
At the end of the previous section, the poet makes a personal commentary on what is happening in the poem, ‘On the Beach’. Here, she dispassionately says though its eyes are filled with tears, the tears taste salty in her mouth. So, the speaker was also a victim of such an incident or some other incident like this in the past. For this reason, her “alien years” have rotted her tongue into immobility. She becomes speechless whenever she comes across such an action happening in front of her.
However, the speaker says people swim in the sunlit sea just like it is an ordinary day. They don’t even care what is happening on the beach. In the last section, Ranasinghe shifts to the act of oppression mentioned in the first section. After throwing sand on the puppy, the boys say to each other, “Let’s play.” They don’t even know what they are doing. For them, it’s just a plaything. At last, they bury the helpless creature alive!
‘On the Beach’ is a poem by Anne Ranasinghe. She was born in a Jewish family and her name was Anneliese Katz. During the holocaust, she left Nazi Germany and took shelter at her aunt’s in England. When World War II broke out her parents got killed by the Nazis. However, later she moved to Sri Lanka. She established her career there. Whatsoever, being a victim of the holocaust, the episodes of her life had a deep impression on her mind. This poem reflects this tension in the poet’s mind. Moreover, the imaginary plot of the poem depicts the reality of the holocaust in Nazi Germany. Last but not least, through this poem Ranasinghe describes how that horrid incident during World War II made the victims cold at heart and numb at an emotional level.
Here is a list of a few poems that are similar to the themes and internal meaning of the poem ‘On the Beach’ by Anne Ranasinghe.
- A Poor Christian Looks at the Ghetto by Czeslaw Milosz – This poem depicts the demolished Warsaw Ghetto from the eyes of a “poor Christian.”
- Death Fugue by Paul Celan – This poem employing the stream-of-consciousness technique depicts the thoughts of a Jewish man confined in a Nazi concentration camp.
- The Survivor by Primo Levi – This is an emotionally powerful and heart-wrenching poem about a person who feels guilty for surviving the holocaust.
- Never Shall I Forget by Elie Wiesel – This poem contains a harrowing passage recounting the first night the poet spent at Birkenau. Wiesel wrote this poem after surviving the first selection at Birkenau.
You can also read about 9 Famous Holocaust Poems.