Summary of Wander Thirst by Gerald Gould

About the poet:

Gerald Gould was born in Norwich in 1885. He studied at University College where he met his future wife Barbara Ayrton, the daughter of William Ayrton and Hertha Ayrton. He was involved in movements associated with several social causes. A socialist by persuasion, he became a member of the Labour Party. He was also well known to be a strong advocate of women’s suffrage.

In 1907, several left-wing intellectuals such as Gould, Henry NevinsonLaurence HousmanCharles CorbettHenry BrailsfordC. E. M. JoadIsrael ZangwillHugh Franklin and Charles Mansell-Moullin formed the Men’s League For Women’s Suffrage.

In 1909 Gould became a Fellow of Merton College at the University of Oxford. The next year, he married Barbara Ayrton, who by this time was an active member of the Women Social & Political Union. Gould also became a regular contributor to The Daily Herald, a socialist newspaper.

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On 6th February 1914, Gould became one of the founding members of the United Suffragists. During the First World War, he was also a member of the War Propaganda Bureau. Other eminent members included Arthur Conan DoyleArnold BennettJohn MasefieldFord Madox FordWilliam ArcherG. K. ChestertonSir Henry NewboltJohn Galsworthy, Thomas HardyRudyard KiplingGilbert ParkerG. M. Trevelyan and H. G. Wells. These men agreed to write pamphlets and books that would promote the government’s view of the war.

After the war, Gould continued to contribute poetry to the The Daily Herald. He also reviewed novels for the New Statesman, eventually moving to The Sunday Observer as fiction editor in 1920. He also worked for the publisher, Victor Gollancz, and was involved in the publication of books written by George Orwell.

Gerald Gould died in 1936.

About Wander Thirst:

This poem is primarily about the urge to travel and explore every corner of the earth. However, as we will see, it also has a ‘carpe diem’ (meaning ‘seize the day’ theme). Life is a journey for the poet, and he asserts that we must continue on this journey at all times so that no opportunity is ever lost by us. We must live every day like it is our last, and take life to be a gift.

The setting of Wander Thirst:

This poem is set in a world of porous boundaries, where one can travel from one place to another easily and without any hassles. Travellers need not worry about crossing international borders without proper documents because there are none. This is the world that has not been fully mapped as yet. This is the world where the sun and the stars do the job of the compass. This is a beautiful world, and the poet wants his fellow men to see all its wonders.

Stanza-wise Summary of Wander Thirst:

The poem consists of 3 stanzas. Each of these stanzas is again made up of 4 lines. Hence, the entire poem consists of 12 lines in total. This poem is written in the first person, hence we can assume that the speaker of the poem is the poet himself.

1st stanza:

Beyond the East the sunrise, beyond the West the sea,
And East and West the wander-thirst that will not let me be;
It works in me like madness, dear, to bid me say good-bye;
For the seas call, and the stars call, and oh! the call of the sky!

In this stanza, the poet describes what he can see before his eyes. Towards the eastern side of the sky, he can see the sun rising at the start of a new day. On the other hand, towards the western side, he can see the waves of the sea. These two sights are very unlike each other, and yet they both appeal to the poet equally. The desire to travel is as compulsive as a thirst that must be quenched immediately. The poet calls this desire his “wander-thirst” and says that the desire is so strong that it always manages to have an effect on him. It does not leave him alone. Instead, it drives him to act like a mad man. It makes him say goodbye to everything he has known till then, and to his home. He can almost hear the seas, the stars and the sky calling out to him to explore them all down to their very last detail.

2nd stanza:

I know not where the white road runs, nor what the blue hills are;
But a man can have the sun for a friend, and for his guide a star;
And there’s no end of voyaging when once the voice is heard,
For the rivers call, and the roads call, and oh! the call of the bird!

In this stanza, the poet says that he is an inexperienced traveller. He can see a white road and it attracts his attention, but he does not know where that road is going towards. He has perhaps heard or read about hills that look blue from a distance, but he does not know the exact location of those hills. However, his ignorance does not frighten the poet or make him nervous in any way. He knows that he can always look at the position of the sun or a star in order to map out the general direction in which he is journeying. So the sun can be his friend, encouraging him even in the darkest or stormiest night, and the star can act as a guide for him on his way, making sure he doesn’t miss a single sight there is to see. The poet also says that the call of the rivers, the roads and the birds is a voice in his head, and once anyone hears that voice, he can never stop being a traveller.

3rd stanza:

Yonder the long horizon lies, and there by night and day
The old ships draw to home again, the young ships sail away;
And come I may, but go I must, and, if men ask you why,
You may put the blame on the stars and the sun and the white road and the sky. 

In this stanza, the poet says that he can easily see the horizon if he looks around, and from that horizon, he can detect the two-way movement of ships. The first way in which the ships move is to sail back to land from the sea, and this is the kind of movement one sees in ships that have become old and have made many journeys. The other way in which ships move is from land out to sea, and this is the kind of movement one sees in young ships that have not been operating for a very long time. Similarly, the poet also makes these two kinds of movement. He does come home once in a while, for he has been journeying for years. However, he cannot remain on land for very long, and soon, he must go out into the sea again. Men often ask why he still makes such long journeys. The only probable answer one can give on the poet’s behalf is that he cannot ignore the call of the stars, the sun, the white road and the sky. All these elements demand that he keep travelling and exploring till he reaches every corner of this planet.


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