To the Sea

To the Sea

Philip Larkin

To step over the low wall that divides

Road from concrete walk above the shore

Brings sharply back something known long before–

The miniature gaiety of seasides.

Everything crowds under the low horizon:

Steep beach, blue water, towels, red bathing caps,

The small hushed waves’ repeated fresh collapse

Up the warm yellow sand, and further off

A white steamer stuck in the afternoon–

Still going on, all of it, still going on!

To lie, eat, sleep in hearing of the surf

(Ears to transistors, that sound tame enough

Under the sky), or gently up and down

Lead the uncertain children, frilled in white

And grasping at enormous air, or wheel

The rigid old along for them to feel

A final summer, plainly still occurs

As half an annual pleasure, half a rite,

As when, happy at being on my own,

I searched the sand for Famous Cricketers,

Or, farther back, my parents, listeners

To the same seaside quack, first became known.

Strange to it now, I watch the cloudless scene:

The same clear water over smoothed pebbles,

The distant bathers’ weak protesting trebles

Down at its edge, and then the cheap cigars,

The chocolate-papers, tea-leaves, and, between

The rocks, the rusting soup-tins, till the first

Few families start the trek back to the cars.

The white steamer has gone. Like breathed-on glass

The sunlight has turned milky. If the worst

Of flawless weather is our falling short,

It may be that through habit these do best,

Coming to the water clumsily undressed

Yearly; teaching their children by a sort

Of clowning; helping the old, too, as they ought.

(1969)

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