Robert Graves’ ‘The Beach‘ is a poem that demonstrates the contrast between how children perceive the world versus how adults perceive the world. The children in the poem are innocently enjoying a fun day at the beach, while the boatman has a more negative outlook towards the beach. Compared to the children, the boatman has a much more fleshed-out understanding of the ocean. This is a metaphor for life itself; we start out with a very innocent surface-level understanding of it, but as we grow this perspective changes drastically
Explore The Beach
‘The Beach‘ is a poem that utilizes the ocean as a metaphor for life.
The poem begins with the narrator describing children having a fun day at the beach. They scream with delight as their fathers toss them into the water, while others bravely leap into it. The children are laughing and having a fun day.
The next stanza of the poem introduces the “horny boatman”, who is very knowledgeable about the sea. He has traveled the ocean and has seen many things, so the children go to him to hear his stories. The poem ends with him warning the children that every ocean smells like tar.
You can read the full poem here.
Louder than gulls the little children scream
Whom fathers haul into the jovial foam;
‘The Beach‘ begins by describing the joy that young children at the beach are experiencing. The narrator states that they are screaming “louder than gulls”, which indicates that they are experiencing a lot of enjoyment playing in the water. The narrator also uses the word “jovial” to describe the sea foam that the fathers haul their children into. This language makes the ocean seem inviting and fun.
But others fearlessly rush in, breast high,
Heroes of the nursery.
The next lines of the poem state that the children who bravely run into the water without needing their parents to coax them in are “heroes of the nursery”. These children represent people who are just beginning to move away from childhood innocence. However, though they are considered brave by their peers, they still maintain a sense of childhood innocence.
The horny boatman, who has seen whales
And flying fishes, who has sailed as far
That every ocean smells of tar.
The next stanza introduces the boatman, a character that contrasts heavily with the child characters at the beach. He is given the name “horny boatman”, which contrasts heavily with the innocence of childhood. Whereas the children play and swim at the beach, the boatman has sailed across the ocean and seen far-off lands.
The boatman takes on a mentor-like role for the children. They “crowd to hear his tales” and he warns them that every ocean “smells of tar”. This is a metaphor for life; the children still view life through a fun and innocent lens due to their surface-level understanding of it. On the other hand, the boatman has a more negative perception of it because he is more experienced. The children go to him for knowledge, because he has lived a longer life than them.
Tar is notorious for having an awful scent, so the ocean “smelling like tar” is symbolic of the boatman’s negative perception of life. While the children have only experienced fun and enjoyment at the beach, the boatman has seen firsthand that there is more to it than that.
Structure and form
‘The Beach‘ is divided into 2 stanzas. Both stanzas are 5 lines long, making the poem 10 lines in total. The poem is written in free verse, meaning it does not have a set rhyming scheme or meter. It utilizes descriptive language to paint a clear image in the mind of the reader. ‘The Beach‘ primarily relies on symbolism to convey its meaning.
The main themes of ‘The Beach‘ center around the contrast between childhood innocence and the more jaded mindset of adulthood. The children in the poem appreciate the beach in a very innocent and carefree way, whereas the boatman has a more negative mindset. This is a metaphor for life itself; the children have only experienced the beach, which is the entrance to the wider ocean. The boatman, on the other hand, has been out to sea. The boatman has experienced life on a deeper level, while the children have not yet.
About Robert Graves
Robert Graves was a British poet, historical novelist, translator, critic, mythographer, and editor born on July 24th, 1895. Graves was known for being a controversial and rebellious figure, both artistically and socially. He wrote a multitude of different poetry collections, including “Abridged for Dolls and Princes” (1971), “The Poems of Robert Graves” (1958), “Country Sentiment” (1920), “Fairies and Fusiliers” (1918), and “Goliath and David” (1916). He died in Spain on December 7th, 1985.
If you like ‘The Beach‘ with Robert Graves, check out this similar poetry:
- ‘Sea Side‘ by Robert Graves, another poem by the author that using beach and ocean motifs.
- Any of the poems from this list of 10 poems about beaches that Poem Analysis has put together.
- ‘Show It At The Beach‘ by Shel Silverstein, another poem that uses the beach as a metaphor for more adult themes.
- Any other poetry by Robert Graves, as his work is considered incredibly well written and remains popular to this day.