‘The Ocean,’ published in 1825 by Nathaniel Hawthorne is made up of four quatrains— or four, four lines stanzas. The poem has a very simple rhyme scheme, following the pattern of, ABABCDCD… throughout the entire piece. This gentle repetition of end rhymes carries the speaker from the beginning of the poem to the end without hesitation.
Summary of “The Ocean”
“The Ocean” by Nathaniel Hawthorne is a short sanguine poem about the peace that lost sailors find, after death, in the depths of the ocean. The poem begins by describing the ocean has having different sections. The deep and lonely recesses, such as “silent caves,” the furious waves on the surface, and the peaceful ocean floor. In the lonely parts of the ocean demons commune with one another but below them, where no other can tread, are the “young, the bright, the fair” the men that have been lost to the waters.They rest there “calmly,” in a world that is the equal of heaven.
Hawthorne’s speaker finishes this poem by elaborating on the idea that the earth and ocean have feelings. These emotions are based off of those felt by those that inhabit the planet, and have allowed the earth to create places of happiness to rival those of despair.
Analysis of “The Ocean”
The Ocean has its silent caves,
Deep, quiet, and alone;
Though there be fury on the waves,
Beneath them there is none.
Hawthorne begins this piece by introducing the poems main character, “The Ocean.” It is clear from this first two words of the first verse that the ocean is going to be treated with reverence, it is going to be considered more than just a body of water. The capitalization of “Ocean,” makes this apparent as no other words in the poem are unnecessarily capitalized.
The ocean is said to have “silent caves” that are deep under water, “quiet, and alone.” The parts and sections of the ocean are going to be consistently personified in this piece with the water being given the power of determination and almost, a conscience.
The second half of this stanza paints the image of the ocean that Hawthorne will advance. On the surface it is filled with “fury” and passion, but beneath the waves all is calm and serene.
The awful spirits of the deep
Hold their communion there;
And there are those for whom we weep,
The young, the bright, the fair.
In the second stanza Hawthorne’s speaker expands on the notion of the ocean having good and bad parts. Deep in the ocean there are many contrasts. The “awful sprits” meet under the water where the light of the sun cannot touch them. They are as far from God as possible. There they are able to plan, speak, and scheme undeterred.
The speaker is making clear that there is much to fear in the depths of the ocean but also much to celebrate. Also near the bottom of the sea, where it is calm and serene, can be found “The young, the bright, the fair,” those that have been lost at sea whether through ship wrecks, accidents, or burials.
These lost ones are “those for whom we weep.” In this line Hawthorne’s speaker directly addresses the reader, but, his statement can be expanded farther, as the ocean is a universal connecting force. It belongs equally to all those inhabiting the earth, hence all these same people are jointly mourning the dead. Hawthorne is addressing the whole human race when he uses, “we.”
Calmly the wearied seamen rest
Beneath their own blue sea.
The ocean solitudes are blest,
For there is purity.
The third quatrain brings the reader closer to the core of this piece.
While the waves are furious on the surface of the ocean, beneath there is a peace in which “wearied seamen rest.” These men, lost most likely through ship wrecks, find a “solitude” and “purity” there that does not exist above the waves. Hawthorne has crafted a second heaven, one that is on earth and beneath the dangerous waves of the sea. One must have braved, and been lost to, the most perilous of situations to find this heaven.
Hawthorne refers to the sea and “their own.” Those that have been lost to it hold a special claim over this refuge in its depths. They have found a rest there that is “blest,” (an archaic for of blessed) with “purity.”
The earth has guilt, the earth has care,
Unquiet are its graves;
But peaceful sleep is ever there,
Beneath the dark blue waves.
The poem concludes with a fourth and final quatrain in which Hawthorne’s speaker makes strikingly clear the idea that the earth and ocean experience emotions as humans do. The earth, his speaker says, “has guilt…has care.” It is able to, through the presence and actions of human beings, understand and interpret fear and peace. In reaction to the fear felt by lost seamen, it reacts through the creation of place of placidity beneath the furious surface.
In this place, the speaker once more states, is land in which “peaceful sleep” is always possible. There are no bad dreams or fears to rouse those, “young…and fair” that “we” lost to the water.
About Nathaniel Hawthorne
Nathaniel Hawthorne was born in Salem, Massachusetts in 1804. His father was a captain who died at sea of yellow fever when Hawthorne was only four years old. Without much family money, the young Hawthorne attended Bowdoin College from 1821 to 1825 where he appeared to have no aptitude for structured learning. After graduating, Hawthorne returned home to his mother and sisters where he would live for the next twelve years.
It was during this period that he first began to self-publish short stories and by 1832 he had written a number of his best known pieces. Hawthorne eventually broke his self-imposed isolation and married Sophia Peabody in July of 1842. They moved to Concord, Massachusetts and soon after their first, of three children was born. The Hawthorne family quickly relocated to Salem where Nathaniel briefly worked as a surveyor. Soon without a job, Hawthorne had time to write his masterpiece, The Scarlet Letter. It was this work that would make Hawthorne famous.
In the coming years the family would travel throughout England, spending time in Italy, and eventually moving back to Concord. In the final years of Hawthorne’s life he found little literary success. His health was failing him and, refusing to seek medical help, died in his sleep in May of 1864.