Summary and Analysis of By The Sea by Rossetti

Introduction to the Poet:

Christina Georgina Rossetti (5 December 1830 – 29 December 1894) was an English poet who wrote a variety of romantic, devotional, and children’s poems.
Of all Victorian women poets, posterity has been kindest to Christina Rossetti. Her poetry has never disappeared from view. In Rossetti’s lifetime opinion was divided over whether she or Elizabeth Barrett Browning was the greatest female poet of the era; in any case, after Browning’s death in 1861 readers saw Rossetti as the older poet’s rightful successor.
Christina Rossetti was born in Charlotte Street (now 105 Hallam Street), London, to Gabriele Rossetti, and John William Polidori. She had two brothers and a sister: Dante Gabriel became an influential artist and poet, and William Michael and Maria both became writers. Christina, the youngest, was a lively child.
Rossetti was educated at home by her mother and father, who had her study religious works, classics, fairy tales and novels. Rossetti delighted in the works of Keats, Scott, Ann Radcliffe and Matthew Lewis.
In the later decades of her life, Rossetti suffered from Graves’ Disease, diagnosed in 1872 suffering a nearly fatal attack in the early 1870s.  She died in Bloomsbury on 29 December 1894 and was buried in Highgate Cemetery.

About By The Sea:

‘By The Sea’ by Christiana Rosetti is a poem that celebrates the elements of nature, in its purest form. The poem throws light on the existence of the sea, which is pleasing and has a diversity of animals and plants thriving in it. Rosetti seems to be keenly interested in all and thus portrays the elements of the sea through the poem.

The Setting of By The Sea:

The setting of the poem is by the seashore where the speaker can see the diversity of sea, the various ranges of life it provides. The presence of Anemones, salts, quaint shells suggests that the setting is in the sea.
The sea is so amazing that it is compared to be a part of the heaven itself.
Thus, in this peaceful and tranquil setting of the sea, the poem ‘By the sea’ is written.

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Poetic devices in By The Sea:

The Rhyming scheme is AXABB.
The sea is being personified here by giving living attributes like moaning,  fretting and drinking.
The poem is filled with imagery. The description of the sea moaning, the sea fretting against the boundary makes us imagine the voluptuousness of sea.
When the speaker goes on to describe the Anemones, that blossom like flowers, the shells that are spotted, quaint it gives us a deep imagery of the description of the sea creatures. Thereby, imageries play a very important role in the poem.
“without a pang” is repeated, as if to denote the painless birth and death repeatedly.

Summary of By The Sea:

The poem closely deals with the nature and the beauty of the sea. The opening lines of the poem are:

Why does the sea moan evermore?
Shut out from heaven it makes its moan,
It frets against the boundary shore;
All earth’s full rivers cannot fill
The sea, that drinking thirsteth still.”
The speaker questions why the sea moans. The moan of the sea is nothing but the sound it makes when the sea thrashes against the boulders and boundaries and the waves overlorn each other. Though she asks the question, she answers it herself. She says that once the sea was a part of heaven. But, now being shut out from the heaven, it cries in pain.
It frets against the boundary shore, as if to let out its agony.  All the rivers of the earth meet at the sea, but the sea still remains thirsty. The thirst isn’t fulfilled because the sea might want to get the heavenly water, which none of the river can endow it with. Thus, in spite of drinking the water of all the rivers, Sea is still thirsty.
The speaker goes on to say:
“Sheer miracles of loveliness
Lie hid in its unlooked-on bed:
Anemones, salt, passionless,
Blow flower-like; just enough alive
To blow and multiply and thrive.”
The sea is a source of miracles. The wonderful creatures, Anemones: flower like looking organisms, salts all thrive inside the sea. The living things, deep inside the water of the sea, where very less light penetrates still manage to stay alive, reproduce and thrive inside the sea.
This is a miracle itself to the speaker. She is amazed by the diversity of living beings inside the sea and is at awe to see them manage to survive, fit and fine.
The last part of the poem says:
“Shells quaint with curve, or spot, or spike,
Encrusted live things argus-eyed,
All fair alike, yet all unlike,
Are born without a pang, and die
Without a pang, and so pass by.”
Thus she describes the living beings that thrive in the depth of the ocean. The shells are beautifully curved, or spotted, or has spikes. They watch everything intently, with the sharp eyes. Lastly the poetess says that unlike the human being, the live and die without emotional sorrows and passes by one another.

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Critical Appreciation of By The Sea:

The poem is a wonderful display of the diversity of life in the sea. The sea is regarded as the heavenly body that has been shut out from the heaven, and thus moans in pain. The diversity of life that has been present in the ocean signifies the greatness of the sea. Just as it speaks of the beauty and great nature of the sea , equally juxtaposing, it also speaks of the endless thirst of the sea. We know many rivers drain into the sea, yet, the sea is not satisfied. It is still thirsty.
The poem is a wonderful description of the beauty of the sea. The miracle of life that has prospered. Also, the various creatures, flower like Anemones and the quaint shaped shells with dots, spots and spike enhances the charm of nature itself. As a result, the sea is an epitome of heaven on earth.

Central Idea of By The Sea:

The central idea of the poem is the portrayal of the beauty and charm of the sea juxtaposing the cruel thirst of the sea. On one hand the poet says that the sea has been a part of the Paradise itself. It cries for the isolation that it faces. Thus the poetess says:
Why does the sea moan evermore?
Shut out from heaven it makes its moan,”
On the other hand, she complains that the sea frets against the boulders. With the progress of the poem, it is seen that the poetess slowly reveals why she had mentioned sea as a part of heaven in the first place itself.
The sea is a storehouse of resources. The beauty and enigma of the sea is magnificent. It has flower shaped Anemones, quaint shells, shells with spikes and spots and of various variety. The wonderful and magnificent lives that it supports throughout, makes it a wonderful place: almost equals to heaven itself.
This is the central idea of the poem.

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The Tone of By The Sea:

The tone of the poem starts with one of the questions as to why the sea moans in pain. However, slowly and steadily it changes to one of joy and elation as the poetess is at awe with the wonderful ambience of the sea. The lives that it supports make it equals to the heaven itself and is a wonderful experience to the lives of the earth, altogether.
Lastly, the poem ends with a philosophical tone when the poetess says that the lives on the sea comes and passes by because it has no pain nor cause any emotional attachment. Thus, sea is a paradise.
Contributor: Bidisha Das