Forces of the Sea Unleashed in Art and Literature


The sea with its moods, vibrancy and colours has been a source of fascination for countless poets, writers, photographers and artists.

Break, Break, Break, Alfred Tennyson’s elegy, written for his friend Arthur Hallum in 1835 and immortalised over centuries, uses the violence of waves to express the grief and the sense of helplessness caused by loss. Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1870) brought the ocean to our doorstep and subsequently on to the silver screen. 


The Slave Ship by Turner

Around the same time, in 1867, Matthew Arnold , a British poet, published Dover Beach, which again plumbs into the darkness and the depth of the sea, some critics say to express “ a stand against a world of broken faith”. A little earlier than Mathew Arnold artist William Turner also expressed his fascination for the sea with his paintings The Slave Ship and Dawn after the Wreck (1840).


Self portrait by Hokusai

Recently an essayist from Oxford has explored how poetry and art express the sea as a great force of nature. He has used Arnold’s poetry but has traversed the oceans in his quest to pick the artist to complement Arnold. He does not opt for Arnold’s compatriot, Turner. Instead he has explored the forces of the seas with the Japanese block printing genius of the nineteenth century, artist Katsushika Hokusai.  

Hokusai created wonders with wooden blocks. One of his most famous prints depicting the sea, called The Great Wave off Kanagawa (1820), has been featured to bring to the fore how both poetry and block printing capture the force of this natural phenomenon called the ocean.

 Read more in the original essay from The Oxford Student, an award winning weekly publication from Oxford University.


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