“Water does not resist. Water flows. When you plunge your hand into it, all you feel is a caress. Water is not a solid wall, it will not stop you. But water always goes where it wants to go, and nothing in the end can stand against it.”
– Margaret Atwood, “The Penelopiad”
There is something serene about water. The vast ocean stretching over miles helps us to reflect on our own mortality. The droplets of rain after a long season of drought make us realize what a gift we have from God. The glaciers strike us with awe with their astounding beauty. The rivers and streams portray the ever-changing course of life. No wonder all the civilizations of the world cropped up by water bodies. All in all, water is an enigma. Just when we think that we have understood it, it has a way to surprise us.
About 71% of the earth is constituted by water. Our body’s 60% is made up of water as well. We cannot live without water. It is unsurprising that in many cultures, water is synonymous with life. Despite this, there is a shortage of water everywhere. Humans do not seem to respect the gift that they have been given. Industrialization and urbanization have led to the pollution of copious amounts of water. Large bodies of water are contaminated in the name of development and profits. This has led to about 2 billion people around the world not having access to safe water. Since 1993, March 22 is observed as World Water Day to celebrate water and its importance.
Let us look at some delightful poems about water that would definitely lift your spirits.
Poem: The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
Poet: Samuel Taylor Coleridge
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge was first published in 198 as part of Coleridge and William Wordsworth’s Lyrical Ballads. Inspired by a Somerset sailor, Coleridge penned this long narrative poem describing the voyage of a sailor who changes his entire life by committing one heinous act on impulse. The poem follows the sailor as he grapples with his conscience and comes to terms with the crime that he committed and its consequences. The poet contains the lines which are perhaps the most famous lines about water in literature. The lines are:
Water, water, everywhere,
Nor any drop to drink.
Poem: The Waterfall
Poet: Henry Vaughan
Henry Vaughan was a metaphysical poet who anticipated the Romantic Movement years before its emergence. This is quite evident in his 1655 poem, The Waterfall. In the poem, Vaughan praises the beauty of a waterfall. He likens the water to human souls. Through his depiction of the waterfall, Henry Vaughan emphasizes that though the soul can be assured restoration like the water drops, not every soul is guaranteed to go in the right direction. Here, the waterfall symbolizes the human life cycle. My favorite lines from the poem are:
Doth thy transparent, cool, and wat’ry wealth
Here flowing fall
Poem: The Dry Salvages
Poet: T.S. Eliot
First published in 1941, The Dry Salvages is the third section of T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets. Water and hope are the predominant themes of the poem. In The Dry Salvages, Eliot sees humanity as a whole entity with a unified memory. The poem begins with a comparison between a river and the sea. The sea cannot be mastered yet man has to work in good faith with it. Eliot quotes Lord Krishna and urges us to fare forward instead of fare well. He bids us to come to terms with our existence. He then moves on to plead to Mother Mary, who appears as a statue over the sea, to pray for those on voyage and those awaiting their return at home. These people represent humanity who are faced with uncertain circumstances and a lack of knowledge. In the fifth and final section of the poem, Eliot gives us hope and prods us to take the right action. My favorite lines from the poem are:
Not fare well,
But fare forward, voyagers.
Poem: Once by the Pacific
Poet: Robert Frost
Robert Frost’s sonnet, Once by the Pacific, was first published in 1926. Frost was inspired to write this poem by a terrifying childhood incident when he was separated from his parents and left alone on a beach. The poem describes a tumultuous storm as it threatens to destroy the world. Once by the Pacific emphasizes the might of the sea. Before the water, we are all powerless. My favorite lines from the poem are:
And thought of doing something to the shore
That water never did to land before.
Poem: Sea Calm
Poet: Langston Hughes
Sea Calm by Langston Hughes was first published in 1926. The poet marvels at the unsettling stillness of the water in Sea Calm. Hughes emphasizes the stagnancy of water and prophesizes that it does not bode well. Here, the water is a metaphor for the African American community. Through his poem, Hughes wished to mobilize Black people. He prods them to actively speak for their rights instead of calmly tolerating injustice. My favorite lines from the poem are:
It is not good
To be so still that way.
Poet: Ralph Waldo Emerson
Ralph Waldo Emerson personifies water in his 1909 poem, Water. Water has lived a long life and knows civilization well. It now has the power to navigate the world. Through his poem, Ralph Waldo Emerson the power and beauty of water. At the same time, he depicts how water can destroy anything that does value it. The opening lines of the poem are my favorite. They are:
The water understands
Poem: Summer Shower
Poet: Emily Dickinson
Summer Shower, penned by Emily Dickinson, was published posthumously in 1890. In this evocative poem, Dickinson waxes poetic about the joys of a surprise summer rain. She takes the very familiar occurrence of summer rain and makes it special with her unique twist. My favorite lines from the poem are:
The Sunshine threw his Hat away –
The Bushes – spangles hung –
Water is a way of life. None of us can live without it for even a day. It is a part of everything we are and everything we have. Naturally, it is our duty to take care of it. We must conserve and make sure that our bounty of precious water is still there for our future generations to enjoy.
Do comment and let us know which of the listed poems has caught your fancy.
One thought on “Watery Works: 7 Best Poems on Water”
There’s a quote I love by Karen Blixer: “I know of a cure for everything: salt water…in one way or the other. Sweat, or tears, or the salt sea.” Water is, by far, our most important resource, in one way or another.
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