Yesterday, in spite of intermittent rain, I was able to make a trip to the Pacific coast. Just above the pounding waves at a coastal town called Depoe Bay, there was a standing stone monument inset with two brass plaques. The first recorded the death of two fisherman lost at sea on a rescue mission in 1936. Just below it was inset another:
It is not true. Life is not slain by death.
The vast, immortal sea shall have her own,
Shall garner to her this expiring breath,
Shall reap where she has sown.
The poem has no attribution, and I do not know who wrote it.
“The vast, immortal sea” –When one reads those words below a memorial to the drowned, and within only feet of waves pounding into spray against the dark rocks, one obviously thinks first of the physical sea — the ocean beyond the memorial. But I think it also has a deeper meaning. It is the Universe, it is the Sea of Eternity out of which we all come and to which we all return. It is what the Chinese called the Dao, the nameless origin of all things.
We find confirmation of that, I think, in these lines by the English poet William Wordsworth, excerpted from his Ode: Intimations of Immortality. I have put the most relevant part into bold type:
Our noisy years seem moments in the being
Of the eternal Silence: truths that wake,
To perish never;
Which neither listlessness, nor mad endeavour,
Nor Man nor Boy,
Nor all that is at enmity with joy,
Can utterly abolish or destroy!
Hence in a season of calm weather
Though inland far we be,
Our Souls have sight of that immortal sea
Which brought us hither,
Can in a moment travel thither,
And see the Children sport upon the shore,
And hear the mighty waters rolling evermore.
It is the same metaphor as on the brass plaque: we come out of the Sea of Eternity, and to it we return. Fortunate are those who, though “inland far,” nonetheless perceive behind the noise and bustle of modern life “the mighty waters rolling evermore.”