Andrew Rutherford notes that this poem figures in manuscript in Kipling’s Notebook 1, dated June 1882. with the title Θαλασσα Θαλασσα (‘Thalassa, Thalassa! ‘The Sea ! The Sea!) It is also included in Notebooks 1 and 3. (See Rutherford p. 23 for an account of the Notebooks.)
It was first published in Echoes by Two Writers in Lahore in August 1884. The poem is listed in ORG as No 115.
It is collected in:
- The Outward Bound Edition vol xvii (1900)
- Edition de Luxe vol xviii (1900)
- The Sussex Edition vol xxxv (1939)
- The Burwash Edition vol xxviii (1941)
- Early Verse by Rudyard Kipling (1986) Ed. Andrew Rutherford, p. 153
- Cambridge Edition (2013) Ed. Thomas Pinney, p. 1255.
The poet calls to the river to carry him out to the sea, away from the green land with its trees and hedgerows, across the bar to distant waters and far-off quays. Perhaps he was simply expressing a wish to move on from school-boy scribbling to the main stream of writing in the wider world; also away from the frustrations of his first love-affair. It is not clear whether when he wrote the poem he already knew that he was soon to leave school and sail to India to find a new life.
He clearly found beaches, where the land meets the sea, haunting and evocative places. See “How the Day Broke”, “Commonplaces”, Quaeritur”, the first chapter of The Light that Failed, and “Baa Baa Black Sheep”, in which he describes his feelings at – with his young sister – being deserted by his parents at the age of five:
They climbed another dune, and came upon the great grey sea at low tide. Hundreds of crabs were scuttling about the beach, but there was no trace of Papa and Mamma, not even of a ship upon the waters—nothing but sand and mud for miles and miles.
[Wee Willie Winkie, p. 282]
Rudyard had entered United Services College in January 1878, at the age of twelve. He was very short-sighted, and no good at games, and the Head gave him the run of his library, where he read voraciously and soon started to write poems for himself, determined to become a published poet. He sent poems to various confidants, including his mother Alice, who published twenty-three of them in Lahore in December 1881, under the title Schoolboy Lyrics .
He had fallen in love with the beautiful ‘Flo Garrard’ the previous year, and had written many poems for her. His feelings do not seem to have been reciprocated, and this was clearly a source of frustration, and a sense of failure.
Rudyard left school in July 1882, a month or so after this poem was written to set out for a new life overseas as a journalist.
His routine work as Assistant Editor at the Civil and Military Gazette was demanding and unremitting. He was sustained by his home life with his parents, and – from December 1883 – by a happy partnership with his young sister ‘Trix’ with whom he played word games and other literary inventions, and wrote parodies.
Several of these were published in Echoes by Two Writers. This poem was clearly Kipling’s own work, dating from two years before. He does not claim it as an ‘echo’ of any other poet.
Harry Ricketts (p. 65) points out that several of the ‘echoes’ expressed long-standing pre-occupations:
Echoes not only allowed Rud to recycle older work as intentionally parodic, but provided him with a ready-made mask for his private emotions.
Notes on the Text
Θαλασσα Θαλασσα (‘Thalassa, Thalassa! ‘The Sea ! The Sea!) the cry of the Greek army of ten thousand men, in 401 BCE, on sighting the Black Sea, as they marched back across the desert from their ill-fated Persian expedition, as recounted by Xenophon in his Anabasis.
Bar in this context a bank of sand, shingle etc. at the mouth of a river or entrance to a harbour.
breakwater a timber, concrete or masonry structure in the sea to form a harbour, or to prevent movement of shingle along the coast, ‘longshore drift’.
strand in this context the sea-shore.
herring-floats probably the spherical glass or rectangular cork floats used at the time for supporting a gill-net that hangs down like a curtain in the sea.
quay pronounced key; a breakwater (see above.) for loading and unloading vessels.
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