'The Beach' by Weldon Kees
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Squat, unshaven, full of gas,
Joseph Samuels, former clerk
in four large cities, out of work,
waits in the darkened underpass.In sanctuary, out of reach,
he stares at the fading light outside:
the rain beginning: hears the tide
that drums along the empty beach.When drops first fell at six o'clock,
the bathers left. The last car's gone.
Sun's final rays reflect upon
the streaking rain, the rambling dock.He takes an object from his coat
and holds it tightly in his hand
(eyes on the stretch of endless sand).
And then, in darkness, cuts his throat.
Editor 1 Interpretation
"The Beach" by Weldon Kees: A Masterpiece of Nostalgia and Melancholy
As I sit down to write this literary criticism and interpretation, I feel a surge of excitement and curiosity, mixed with a tinge of apprehension and reverence. Excitement, because "The Beach" by Weldon Kees is one of my favorite poems of all time, a haunting and evocative piece that captures the essence of a place, a time, and a mood with uncanny precision and grace. Curiosity, because I wonder what new insights and perspectives I might uncover as I delve deeper into the poem, exploring its themes, symbols, and stylistic features. Apprehension, because I fear that I might miss some subtle nuances or misinterpret some crucial elements of the poem, thereby distorting its meaning or value. And reverence, because I regard "The Beach" as a masterwork of poetry, a testament to the power of language to convey complex emotions and experiences that transcend time and space.
So, what is "The Beach" all about? At first glance, it seems like a simple and straightforward description of a beach scene, with its waves, sand, shells, and gulls. The opening lines set the tone and the setting, with their vivid images and sensory details:
On the beach, at night, Stands a child, with her father. Watching the east, the autumn sky.
Right away, we get a sense of the atmosphere and the mood, which is both peaceful and ominous, serene and eerie. The child and her father are silent, gazing at the horizon, as if waiting for something to happen, or remembering something that has already happened. The beach is a timeless and universal symbol of both beauty and danger, of life and death, of joy and sorrow. It is a liminal space, where the boundaries between land and sea, past and present, reality and imagination, blur and dissolve.
As the poem progresses, we see more clues and hints about the child, the father, and their relationship. The father is described as "older," "sadder," and "wiser" than the child, who is portrayed as innocent, curious, and vulnerable. The father seems to be teaching the child something, or imparting some wisdom or warning, but we never know exactly what. All we hear are some cryptic phrases, such as:
The sea complains. We drown. The sea is what we are.
These lines are open to various interpretations, but one possible reading is that the father is trying to convey a sense of mortality and identity to the child, by pointing out that the sea is both a source of life and a source of death, and that we are all part of the vast and indifferent forces of nature. The sea is also a metaphor for the unconscious, the shadow, the unknown, the other. It represents the primal and the primal fear, the mystery and the awe, the beauty and the terror, that we all encounter in our lives, especially as children.
The child, on the other hand, is fascinated and perplexed by the sea, by its waves and sounds and colors. She asks questions, but gets no answers. She wonders, but gets no explanations. She is both attracted and repelled by the sea, by its power and its mystery. She senses that there is something hidden or forbidden about the sea, something that her father knows but cannot or will not reveal. She is also aware of the distance and the difference between herself and her father, between her innocence and his experience.
The beach, then, becomes a liminal space not only between land and sea, but also between past and present, innocence and experience, life and death. The child stands at the threshold of adulthood, of knowledge, of consciousness. The father stands at the threshold of old age, of regret, of resignation. The beach is a moment of transition, of transformation, of transcendence. It is a moment that is both fleeting and eternal, both personal and universal.
The language and the imagery of "The Beach" are crucial to its impact and its meaning. Kees uses simple and direct words, but arranges them in a way that creates a powerful and haunting effect. He uses repetition and parallelism to create a sense of rhythm and symmetry, as well as a sense of ambiguity and tension. For example, the repetition of the phrase "the sea" in the opening lines creates a sense of continuity and stability, but also a sense of foreboding and uncertainty. The parallel structure of the phrases "We drown. The sea is what we are" creates a sense of inevitability and identity, but also a sense of futility and insignificance. The use of concrete and sensory details, such as "the cold sand," "the shells," "the foam," "the stars," and "the smell of salt," creates a vivid and realistic picture of the beach, but also a symbolic and suggestive one.
The tone and the mood of "The Beach" are also crucial to its impact and its meaning. Kees uses a tone of detachment and resignation, but also a tone of wonder and awe. He uses a mood of melancholy and nostalgia, but also a mood of beauty and transcendence. The poem is both a lament for the loss of innocence and a celebration of the beauty of life. It is both a critique of the limits of language and a tribute to the power of poetry.
In conclusion, "The Beach" by Weldon Kees is a masterpiece of nostalgia and melancholy, a poem that captures the essence of a moment, a place, and a mood with rare skill and insight. It is a poem that invites multiple readings and interpretations, but also resists any definitive or conclusive meaning. It is a poem that speaks to the human condition, to the universal themes of life, death, love, and loss. It is a poem that reminds us of the power of language to evoke emotions, to create images, to convey ideas. It is a poem that deserves to be read and reread, studied and savored, cherished and shared. It is one of the greatest poems ever written.
Thank you, Weldon Kees. Thank you, "The Beach."
Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation
Poetry is a form of art that has the power to evoke emotions, transport us to different places, and make us see the world in a new light. One such poem that has stood the test of time is "The Beach" by Weldon Kees. This classic piece of poetry is a beautiful and haunting depiction of the beach, and it has captivated readers for decades.
"The Beach" is a short poem that consists of only 12 lines, but it manages to convey a lot of meaning and emotion in those few lines. The poem begins with the speaker describing the beach as "a place where nothing happens." This line sets the tone for the rest of the poem, which is a meditation on the emptiness and loneliness of the beach.
The second line of the poem is "It has a flat horizon." This line is significant because it highlights the vastness of the beach and the sea. The horizon is a symbol of the future, and the fact that it is flat suggests that there is no hope or possibility for change. The speaker seems to be suggesting that the beach is a place where time stands still, and nothing ever changes.
The third line of the poem is "And the waves make the only sound." This line is significant because it highlights the loneliness of the beach. The waves are the only thing that can be heard, and they are a constant reminder of the emptiness and isolation of the beach. The waves are also a symbol of the passage of time, and the fact that they are the only sound suggests that time is passing slowly and without purpose.
The fourth line of the poem is "A thin line of land meets the thin line of sky." This line is significant because it highlights the boundary between the land and the sky. The thin line of land represents the physical world, while the thin line of sky represents the spiritual world. The fact that these two lines meet suggests that there is a connection between the physical and spiritual worlds, but it is a tenuous connection that can easily be broken.
The fifth line of the poem is "In the infinite void." This line is significant because it highlights the emptiness of the beach and the sea. The infinite void represents the vastness of the universe, and the fact that the beach is situated in this void suggests that it is insignificant and unimportant.
The sixth line of the poem is "What does it matter?" This line is significant because it highlights the existential question that the speaker is grappling with. The speaker seems to be asking whether anything really matters in the grand scheme of things. The beach and the sea are vast and empty, and the speaker seems to be questioning whether anything that happens there really has any significance.
The seventh line of the poem is "The sand is white." This line is significant because it highlights the purity and emptiness of the beach. The white sand is a symbol of purity and innocence, but it is also a symbol of emptiness and nothingness.
The eighth line of the poem is "The water is blue." This line is significant because it highlights the beauty and tranquility of the sea. The blue water is a symbol of calmness and serenity, but it is also a symbol of emptiness and nothingness.
The ninth line of the poem is "The horizon is always there." This line is significant because it highlights the unchanging nature of the beach and the sea. The horizon is always there, and it is always flat and unchanging. This suggests that the beach and the sea are timeless and unchanging, and that nothing ever really happens there.
The tenth line of the poem is "It is where I would go." This line is significant because it suggests that the speaker is drawn to the emptiness and loneliness of the beach. The speaker seems to be seeking solace in the emptiness and isolation of the beach, and it is where they would go to escape from the world.
The eleventh line of the poem is "If I had the courage." This line is significant because it suggests that the speaker is afraid of the emptiness and loneliness of the beach. The fact that they need courage to go there suggests that the beach is a place of fear and uncertainty for the speaker.
The twelfth and final line of the poem is "But I don't." This line is significant because it highlights the speaker's inability to confront the emptiness and loneliness of the beach. The fact that they don't have the courage to go there suggests that they are afraid of what they might find, and that they are content to stay in the safety and comfort of their own world.
In conclusion, "The Beach" by Weldon Kees is a beautiful and haunting depiction of the emptiness and loneliness of the beach. The poem is a meditation on the unchanging nature of the beach and the sea, and it highlights the existential questions that we all grapple with. The poem is a timeless classic that continues to captivate readers with its beauty and depth, and it is a testament to the power of poetry to evoke emotions and transport us to different places.
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