the love of the ocean

ManholdingshipSimon Winchester at Lapham's Quarterly:

I suppose it to be a peculiarly English thing, this intense, near-painful fondness for the ocean that surrounds us. Certainly I had always wanted to be a sailor, and as for many, it was the fine romance of an ocean life that provided the earliest motivation. My preparatory school sat by the sea, and when the nuns took us out for Saturday walks, I liked to stand on the Dorset cliff edges and gaze across the waves toward the lines of great ships far out on the horizon, all of them beating slowly to westward against the wind. The sisters—though their own familiarity with matters maritime tended to be circumscribed by Noah, his ark, and the length of a cubit—helped anneal the notion with the reading of ocean poetry. There was a lot of John Masefield. I must go down to the seas again, of course, but Quinquireme of Nineveh and Stately Spanish galleon, too, though there on the Channel coast we mostly saw those dirty British coasters with their salt-caked smokestacks, butting into the gales with their cargos of Tyne coal,/Road rails, pig lead,/Firewood, ironware, and cheap tin trays, the final three words we scallywags always yelling out cheerfully in schoolboy unison.

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