You see, shore-hugging IS neither surety
Nor earns salt pride braving the long sea-sweeps.
This came up in the dark while some of us
Bore on in our sleep. Was there
In the dog-watch already, hiding the dog-star.
We woke into it, rising from dreams
Of sea-farms slanting on cliffs in clear light
And white houses winking there—sweet landmarks
But no help to us at the helm. Hours now
We have been drifting. It would be near noon.
Feeling the tides fight under our feet
Like a crawling of carpets. Turning our heads
To plck up the cape bell, the hoots of the shoal horn
That seem to come from all over. Distrusting
Every direction that is simple, to shoreward. This
Landfall is not vouchsafed us for
We have abused landfalls, loving them wrong
And too timorously. What coastline
Will not cloud over if looked at long enough?
Not through the rings running with us of enough
Horizons, not wide enough risking,
Not hard enough have we wrought our homing.
Drifting itself now is danger. Where are we?
Well, the needle swings still to north, and we know
Even in this blindness which way deep water lies.
Ships were not shaped for haven but if we were
There will be time for it yet. Let us turn head,
Out oars, and pull for the open. Make we
For mid-sea, where the winds are and stars too.
There will be wrung weathers, sea-shakings, calms,
Weariness, the giant water that rolls over our fathers,
And hungers hard to endure. But whether we float long
Or founder soon, we cannot be saved here.
W.S. Merwin (b. 1927), American poet and translator.