Rudyard Kipling

The Sea and the Hills by Rudyard Kipling

‘The Sea and the Hills’ by Rudyard Kipling depicts the ocean, its heaving waves, incredible winds, and ever-present danger. It has evoked longing in men throughout time and will continue to do so, just as one longs to return home. 

The first part of this poem was first published in Kim in 1901. It was expanded to include the final two verses and published complete in Inclusive Verse 1919 and Definitive Verse 1940. The poem was later reprinted in A Choice of Songs from the Verse of Rudyard Kipling. ‘The Sea and the Hills’ is not Kipling’s best-known poem, but it is surely one of the best poems ever written in the English language about the ocean, its dangers, and the pull it exerts over generations of sailors and explorers. 

The Sea and the Hills
Rudyard Kipling

Who hath desired the Sea? - the sight of salt water unbounded - 
The heave and the halt and the hurl and the crash of the comber wind-hounded?
The sleek-barrelled swell before storm, grey, foamless, enormous, and growing
Stark calm on the lap of the Line or the crazy-eyed hurricane blowing - 
His Sea in no showing the same - his Sea and the same 'neath each showing:
His Sea as she slackens or thrills? 
So and no otherwise - so and no otherwise - hillmen desire their Hills! 

Who hath desired the Sea ? - the immense and contemptuous surges? 
The shudder, the stumble, the swerve, as the star-stabbing bowsprit emerges?
The orderly clouds of the Trades, the ridged, roaring sapphire thereunder - 
Unheralded cliff-haunting flaws and the headsail's low-volleying thunder - 
His Sea in no wonder the same - his Sea and the same through each wonder:
His Sea as she rages or stills? 
So and no otherwise - so and no otherwise - hillmen desire their Hills.

Who hath desired the Sea? Her menaces swift as her mercies? 
The in-rolling walls of the fog and the silver-winged breeze that disperses?
The unstable mined berg going South and the calvings and groans that declare it - 
White water half-guessed overside and the moon breaking timely to bare it - 
His Sea as his fathers have dared - his Sea as his children shall dare it:
His Sea as she serves him or kills? 
So and no otherwise - so and no otherwise - hillmen desire their Hills. 

Who hath desired the Sea? Her excellent loneliness rather
Than forecourts of kings, and her outermost pits than the streets where men gather
Inland, among dust, under trees - inland where the slayer may slay him -  
Inland, out of reach of her arms, and the bosom whereon he must lay him - 
His Sea from the first that betrayed - at the last that shall never betray him:
His Sea that his being fulfils? 
So and no otherwise - so and no otherwise - hillmen desire their Hills.
The Sea and the Hills by Rudyard Kipling


Summary 

‘The Sea and the Hills’ by Rudyard Kipling is a poem about the power of the ocean and how it generations have been attracted to it. 

In the stanzas of ‘The Sea and the Hills,’ Kipling’s speaker asks readers to consider the many varied elements of the ocean. He uses personification, describing the ocean as “she” and depicting all of “her” unruly features. On the sea, sailors are at risk from all sides. Anything can happen, including being blown out of control by unpredictable and predictable winds and running into an iceberg in foggy weather.

Throughout the text, Kipling also compares the desire to return to the sea, as one’s ancestors have throughout time, to a perhaps more relatable desire to be on dry land, a symbol for home and safety.

Themes 

The sea and its dangers and appeal is the main theme of this poem. But, Kipling also includes allusions to home, safety, and a returning desire to escape these things on the open ocean. The speaker does not shy away from the often-horrifying qualities of the ocean. Instead, he celebrates them, asking readers to appreciate the ocean for what it is and for what it can do. 

Structure and Form

‘The Sea and the Hills’ by Rudyard Kipling is a four-stanza poem divided into septets or stanzas of seven lines. These lines are quite long, stretching far longer than most readers expect from poetry. At first glance, the text appears more like paragraphs than it does stanzas. 

The poet also uses a specific rhyme scheme. The lines follow a pattern of AABBBCC in each stanza but with different end sounds. For example, the “A” rhyme in stanza one is “unbounded” and “wind-hounded,” and in stanza two, it is “surges” and “emerges.” 

Literary Devices 

Throughout this poem, the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to: 

  • Repetition: occurs when the poet repeats an image, phrase, structure, image, or any other feature of their poetry. In this case, the poet repeats long sections of the same text. For example, the rhetorical question “Who hath desired the Sea?” which begins each stanza.
  • Caesura: an intentional pause in the middle of a line. This is usually created through a natural pause in the meter or through the poet’s use of punctuation. For example, “Who hath desired the Sea? – the sight of salt water unbounded.” 
  • Imagery: can be seen when the poet uses particularly interesting descriptions. For example, “The orderly clouds of the Trades, the ridged, roaring sapphire thereunder –  / Unheralded cliff-haunting flaws and the headsail’s low-volleying thunder.”
  • Alliteration: occurs when the poet repeats the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple words. For example, “Sea,” “sight,” and “salt” in line one and “heave,” “halt,” and “hurl” in line two of stanza one. 
  • Anaphora: the use of the same word or phrase at the beginning of multiple lines. For example, “The” starts line two of all four stanzas, and “Who hath” begins the first line of every stanza.


Detailed Analysis 

Stanza One 

Who hath desired the Sea? – the sight of salt water unbounded – 

The heave and the halt and the hurl and the crash of the comber wind-hounded?

The sleek-barrelled swell before storm, grey, foamless, enormous, and growing

Stark calm on the lap of the Line or the crazy-eyed hurricane blowing – 

His Sea in no showing the same – his Sea and the same ‘neath each showing:

His Sea as she slackens or thrills? 

So and no otherwise – so and no otherwise – hillmen desire their Hills! 

In the first stanza of ‘The Sea and the Hills,’ Kipling begins by asking a rhetorical question. That is, something that the speaker did not expect to get an answer to.

It should also be noted that the first two stanzas of this poem were first used in Kim, a novel published in serial form from 1900 to 1901. The poem celebrates the danger and beauty of the ocean in these first lines. Kipling draws the reader’s attention to the heaving and hurling crashing of the waves. He uses the word “comber” in the second line, defined as a long curling wave that breaks out at sea.

He alludes to a specific part of the ocean, from the equator to 3° north, with the phrase “Stark calm on the lap of the line.” Here, a nearly always calm section of the ocean exists. But, Kipling does not go long without providing a clear juxtaposition. Such as seen in his description of a ship at sea in stanza two. 

Stanza Two

Who hath desired the Sea ? – the immense and contemptuous surges? 

The shudder, the stumble, the swerve, as the star-stabbing bowsprit emerges?

The orderly clouds of the Trades, the ridged, roaring sapphire thereunder – 

Unheralded cliff-haunting flaws and the headsail’s low-volleying thunder – 

His Sea in no wonder the same – his Sea and the same through each wonder:

His Sea as she rages or stills? 

So and no otherwise – so and no otherwise – hillmen desire their Hills.

In the second stanza, the poet opens with the line that began the previous stanza. He asks again who could desire to see in all of the sea’s chaos. He depicts the “bowsprit,” a part of a ship that sticks out from the bow as it emerges from the water. Tossed on the waves, the ship is blown by the “Trades,” or trade winds that travel from east to west. The ship travels west, the winds at its back. 

It’s at the mercy of the “Unheralded cliff-haunting flaws,” or gusts of wind that angle off cliffs where the water meets the land and can affect the ships around them. The poet ends this stanza much in the same way as he did the previous. 

He refers to “she,” the ocean, and to the “hillmen” who desire the calm peace of their “Hills,” a representation of safety and home. He compares the incredible power of the sea and the attraction he feels people should have to it to the way that it’s far more common to feel attracted to home and dry land. One can find stillness in a way that never exists in the ocean. 

Stanza Three

Who hath desired the Sea? Her menaces swift as her mercies? 

The in-rolling walls of the fog and the silver-winged breeze that disperses?

The unstable mined berg going South and the calvings and groans that declare it – 

White water half-guessed overside and the moon breaking timely to bare it – 

His Sea as his fathers have dared – his Sea as his children shall dare it:

His Sea as she serves him or kills? 

So and no otherwise – so and no otherwise – hillmen desire their Hills. 

The third stanza again begins with the refrain. He refers to the sea as “she” once more, a repeated example of personification. He asks readers to imagine the walls of fog that roll in on the water and the breezes that disperse it. 

He also refers to the “berg” or iceberg “going South” and the “Calvings and groans that declare it.” These sensory images are all part of the ocean and the chaotic beauty that one can expect to see there. In foggy weather, as Kipling suggests, the sounds of icebergs calving are the only way that one might know that they are in danger and avoid these huge blocks of ice. 

The final lines of this stanza suggest a traditional return to the water throughout generations. A man faces the seas as his father did and as his children will, all are drawn there, and the sea decides to “serve…him or kill” him. There is no escape from the sea’s pull, the speaker suggests; it is just the way things are. 

Stanza Four

Who hath desired the Sea? Her excellent loneliness rather

Than forecourts of kings, and her outermost pits than the streets where men gather

Inland, among dust, under trees – inland where the slayer may slay him –  

Inland, out of reach of her arms, and the bosom whereon he must lay him – 

His Sea from the first that betrayed – at the last that shall never betray him:

His Sea that his being fulfils? 

So and no otherwise – so and no otherwise – hillmen desire their Hills.

In the final stanza, the speaker refers to the sea’s “excellent loneliness.” This beautiful image is used to contrast against the courts of kings and the gatherings of men in civilized places. People have, throughout time, as the speaker feels, they should be drawn to the sea and away from that which may seem on the surface to be more appealing. 

Inland, when one is out of “reach of” the sea’s “arms,” one is “where the slayer may slay him” and among the dust under trees. When inland, one may desire to return to the ocean in the same way that one may long for the land while at sea. 

FAQs

What are the themes in ‘The Sea and the Hills?’ 

The themes in this poem are adventure, the sea, and home. The poet brings all these themes together to depict the longing to escape from regulated society and into the dangerous heaving of the ocean and compares it to a similar longing to return home. 

What is the tone of ‘The Sea and the Hills?’

The tone is passionate and determined. The speaker is 100% convinced in his manner of speaking and thinking. There is no hesitation in his depiction of the ocean and the way that men/people more generally feel about it. 

What is the purpose of ‘The Sea and the Hills?’

The purpose is to celebrate the beauty, dangerous though it may be, of the sea. The speaker asks readers to appreciate all of its elements, including those most likely to end one’s life. 

Who is the speaker in ‘The Sea and the Hills?’

The speaker is someone who knows the sea well and is acquainted with a rerunning “desire” to be on the ocean away from land. At the same time, they are also someone who knows what it is to long for the safety of land and home. 


Similar Poetry

Readers who enjoyed this poem should also consider reading some other poems by Rudyard Kipling. For example: 

  • If’ – is one of the most inspirational poems ever written. It features a father’s lessons towards his son.
  • Mandalay’ – features the reminiscences of a soldier looking back on his time in Burma alongside a woman he loved.
  • The Undertaker’s Horse’ – is a strangely dark poem in which the speaker uses the image of a horse to discuss death and how, no matter where one hides, it’s impossible to escape from it.

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Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.
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