Cento on the Beach

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The people along the sand,
somnambulists along the promenade,
all turn and look one way.
La mer, la mer, toujours recommencée:
I have seen it over and over,
the same sea, the same.
The sun beats lightning on the waves,
the waves fold thunder on the sand,
the wetter ground like glass
reflects a standing gull.
And then blue heaven spread
its crystalline pendentives on the sea.

Somnambulists along the promenade
turn their back to the land.
They look at the sea all day
and their fingers crumble fragments of baked weed,
gaily digging and scattering.
Like as the waves make toward the pebbled shore
(I have seen it over and over),
so do our minutes hasten to their end,
each changing place with that which goes before.
Wave by wave, come back.
Sand and salt and sky: and then the sea
and heaven rolled as one and from the two
came fresh transfigurings of freshest blue.
The sea is not a mask.
They cannot look in deep.
The bottom of the sea is cruel.


With thanks to: James Merrill, “Yannina”
Robert Frost, “Neither Far Out Nor in Deep”
Paul Valery, Cimetiere Marin
Elizabeth Bishop, “At the Fishhouses”
Hart Crane, “Voyages”
Wallace Stevens, “Sea Surface Full of Clouds”
William Shakespeare, “Sonnet 60”
Olga Broumas, “Small Green Sea”
Wallace Stevens, “The Idea of Order at Key West”