Two Lovers and a Beachcomber by the Real Sea is a six stanza poem, written from the perspective of a lover remembering her time in a place of happiness. Each stanza is four lines long, each no longer than ten words or shorter than three. This poem was first published in 1955.
Summary of Two Lovers and a Beachcomber by the Real Sea
This poem takes place almost entirely in an imagined world within the speaker’s head. Her “summer house” which she imagines, is a place in which she and her lover were going to be happy. This place of carefree happiness is being sealed up, windows covered and the view gone. Their time has dwindled like the sand in an hour glass. The speaker remembers how fanciful and free her thoughts used to be and that now they have retreated to the back of her head. She speaks of the nature of their relationship and how there is no way to predict what the two of them are becoming and that they are akin to white whales, gone far out in the ocean.
The speaker continues on to describe her own consciousness as a beachcomber searching through her memories for something worthwhile while seagulls circle above. The poem concludes with a reality check in which she states permanent facts about the world, repeating them to herself, forcing herself to acknowledge reality and leave behind her fantasy world. Read the complete poem here.
Analysis of Two Lovers and a Beachcomber by the Real Sea
This piece begins with a stark description of the the end of a happy narrative. The speaker of this poem is giving the reader a vivid description of what is occurring within, one can assume, the speaker’s own mind. The speaker is describing a summer home within their imagination. This summer home is being boarded up, closed for the last time. There is not room for the hope of returning in this opening stanza.
There is an important word that is worth remembering as the poem continues, “fabled.” The summer home is described this way in the second line. This does not appear to be a real place, but a place of escape for the narrator. Somewhere that she can go within her own mind and be happy.
The “blue views” are boarded up and,
…our sweet vacation
Dwindles in the hour-glass.
This is the first mention of another person inhabiting this home. Their time together in this place is running out, it “dwindles” like the sand in an hour-glass.
The beginning of the next stanza helps to solidify the fact that this summer home is a creation of the speaker’s mind and that her, or their, time there is running out.
She speaks of her own thoughts and how while in this place they were powerful and almost whimsical, seeing seaweed floating in the “tide’s green fall” as the hair of a mermaid. Now though, these thoughts are coming to an end. They
Now fold their wings like bats and disappear
Into the attic of the skull.
Her fanciful thinking, the peace of mind that one can assume this speaker found in this place, is receding back into the depths of her mind. It is closed and finished, just like the house.
In this third stanza the speaker expresses remorse over how her relationship has turned out. She speaks to her partner saying that,
We are not what we might be;
Giving the reader more information to this end, the speaker describes the way they are currently, “Outlaws all extrapolation.” Or more simply, because of how they are, there is no way to predict what they are becoming. All that is clear is what is in the “interval of now and here.” She cannot see into the future and know how things will turn out. Perhaps she believed she could do so in the past, perhaps she imagined a life for them within that summer house, but she can no longer see their paths leading up to that place. The last line describes them as being “white whales,” extraordinarily special and rare, but that they are gone along with the “white ocean” in her mind.
In this second half of the poem the speaker brings the reader back to the beach. Another character has been introduced, a beachcomber. This is the name given to someone who speeds time traveling along the length of the water searching for anything valuable that people have left behind, or that has washed in from the sea. This particular beachcomber is another part of the speaker’s mind that can be seen as representing her own objective view on what is happening. This is the part of her mind probing the left over, boarded up remains of this summer home and its environs to see if anything valuable has been left behind.
The beachcomber “squats among the wrack / Of kaleidoscope shells,” probing around within her memories. Around this beachcomber flies a “tent of taunting gulls.” They hover above, also seeking out something valuable to them, food. Both the beachcomber and the gulls are watchers, observers of this ruined world within the speaker’s mind.
In the first two lines of this stanza Plath makes use of alliteration. So much so that it stands out starkly from the rest of the piece. She repeats the “k” sound five times in two lines. This harsh rhythm punctuates the frustration and disappointment that the speaker feels at their situation. It could also mimic a loud and final declaration as the speaker uses these two lines as a finalizing statement. These two lines are confusing through the use of this device. She describes the changing of the sea and how it does not exist for the lovers, that for the
…sunken shank of bone
That chucks in the backtrack of the wave
There will be no change. She is comparing their possible lives as being chucked out into the waves as they recede into the sea. Their lives will not change with the waves, they will be washed out far into the ocean, not to come back to shore, and not to be stumbled upon by the beachcomber.
The second two lines of this stanza describe the mind like an oyster. It “labors on and on” seeking out its ideal world, its perfect happiness, but for her and her lover, “A grain of sand is all [they] have.” No matter the labor they endure, they are left with nothing but a tiny memory. This reference to sand connects the previous comparison of their time to sand in an hour glass, and most obviously to sand on the beach.
The last stanza of the poem takes place in the real world, the reality that is outside of the speaker’s head. She states the facts of the world, that water will run through rivers and streams, and “the actual sun / Will scrupulously rise and set.” The closing lines of the poem do their best to shatter anything that is left of this image of happiness within her mind.
No little man lives in the exacting moon
And that is that, is that, is that.
She uses the much loved idea of a man in the moon as a representation of a world that she now considers pure fancy. She denies him, there is “no little man” living in the moon, and then repeats this conviction over three times, drilling it into her own mind. She will not live in the summer house, there are no “blue views” or “sweet vacation[s].”
About Sylvia Plath
Sylvia Plath was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1932. When Plath was only eight years old her father, who had been strict and authoritarian in his parenting style, died. His death would become the driving force behind a number of her most famous poems; most notably, “Daddy.” Plath graduated summa cum laude from Smith College in 1955. This is the same year in which “Two Lovers and a Beachcomber by the Real Sea” was published. She had battled with depression throughout her schooling, attempting suicide in 1953.
Plath would then move to Cambridge, England and marry fellow poet, Ted Hughes. In 1960 her first collection, Colossus, was published and 1963 she published her novel, The Bell Jar. Sylvia Plath would commit suicide using her gas oven in February of that same year. Her most famous collection of works, Ariel, was published by Hughes, along with another three after her death.