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Featured Poem: On The Beach At Night by Walt Whitman

Written by Lisa Spurgin, 14th June 2010

Just a reminder – a little early perhaps, six days in advance, but it is important – that Father’s Day is at the end of this week. So there’s quite a bit of time left to reserve the comfiest seat in the house, stock up on refreshments, purchase a carefully-thought out present (or alternatively, socks again…surely, Dads will always need socks?) and to jot down a message in a card that will most likely feature a somewhat corny attempt at humour but has an heartfelt sentimentality lying underneath.

Although, however well meaning these small tokens are, they never quite seem enough. As is the whole concept of having a ‘Father’s Day’ (and a Mother’s Day)… having a time set especially to honour our dearest dads is not to be sniffed at, and the ideal opportunity to cause the good type of fuss (and if you’re a dad, to sit back, relax and revel in being fussed over – for a change). But this appreciation shouldn’t be limited to a sole day, an annual event in the calendar, even if it is often the case that the most obvious, outward displays are. For all the things they do for us, fathers deserve something a little more prolonged in the way of celebration. Putting a time-frame on it is perhaps asking for the impossible.

Of course, all father-child relationships are extremely special, but there is something that bit more so about those between dads and their daughters. I admit there’s probably a lot of bias on my behalf in stating this, being the only child and only daughter of my dad. We do have a particularly close bond, which probably has a lot to do with the fact that we have so much in common; sense of humour, temperament (which isn’t always good…), even taste in music, film and books, although that can take a little coaxing on both sides. Yet it runs much deeper than that. To know that you have a dad is to know you will forever have someone on your side. From picking you up when you fall off a swing or a climbing frame to picking you up when you’re having a hard time; giving you a lift at an unspeakable hour of the day or lifting your spirits; soothing bruised knees or broken hearts.

This week’s featured poem from Walt Whitman is a very sweet representation of a moment between father and daughter, a moment that seems so small in the grand scheme of things but is in fact testimony to the eternal reassurance fathers can offer their children and how easily they can sweep fears and worries aside, with explanations that you don’t question and words that make everything okay. As the stars in the sky endure, so do a father's love and support...and I'm quite certain that is what the closing lines are hinting towards.

On The Beach At Night

On the beach, at night,
Stands a child, with her father,
Watching the east, the autumn sky.

Up through the darkness,
While ravening clouds, the burial clouds, in black masses spreading,
Lower, sullen and fast, athwart and down the sky,
Amid a transparent clear belt of ether yet left in the east,
Ascends, large and calm, the lord-star Jupiter;
And nigh at hand, only a very little above,
Swim the delicate brothers, the Pleiades.

From the beach, the child, holding the hand of her father,
Those burial-clouds that lower, victorious, soon to devour all,
Watching, silently weeps.

Weep not, child,
Weep not, my darling,
With these kisses let me remove your tears;
The ravening clouds shall not long be victorious,
They shall not long possess the sky--shall devour the stars only in
Jupiter shall emerge--be patient--watch again another night--the
Pleiades shall emerge,
They are immortal--all those stars, both silvery and golden, shall
shine out again,
The great stars and the little ones shall shine out again--they
The vast immortal suns, and the long-enduring pensive moons, shall
again shine.

Then, dearest child, mournest thou only for Jupiter?
Considerest thou alone the burial of the stars?

Something there is,
(With my lips soothing thee, adding, I whisper,
I give thee the first suggestion, the problem and indirection,)
Something there is more immortal even than the stars,
(Many the burials, many the days and nights, passing away,)
Something that shall endure longer even than lustrous Jupiter,
Longer than sun, or any revolving satellite,
Or the radiant brothers, the Pleiades.

1 thought on “Featured Poem: On The Beach At Night by Walt Whitman

Geoffrey Cooper says:

Why is the last line in the poem altered from:
“Or the radiant sisters the Pleiades.”

The Pleiades in astronomy are know as the Seven Sisters. Not a brother in the bunch. Something that Whitman knew well.

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