By Mary Barnard 1909–2001 Mary Barnard
The seas has made a wall for its defence
of falling water. Those whose impertinence
leads them to its moving ledges
it rejects. Those who surrender
it will with the next wave drag under.

Sand is the beginning and the end
of our dominion.

The way to the dunes is easy.
The shelving sand is stiffened in the rain
and loosened again in the sun’s fingers.
Children, lustful of the glistening hours
drink and are insatiate. Wind under the eyelids,
confusion walling their ears, their bodies glow
in the cold wash of the beach.
                                              And after,
they walk with rigid feet the planked street of the town.   
They miss the slipping texture of the sand
and a sand pillow under the hollow instep.   
They are unmoved by fears
that breed in darkening kitchens at sundown
following storm, and they rebel
against cold waiting in the wind and rain
for the late sail.

                           Did you, as I,
condemn the coastal fog and long for islands
seen from a sail’s shadow?
                                        The dunes lie
more passive to the wind than water is.   
This, then, the country of our choice.

It is infertile, narrow, prone   
under a dome of choral sound:   
water breaking upon water.

Litter of bare logs in the drift—
the sea has had its sharp word with them.
Wild roses, wild strawberries cover the dune shoulder   
It is a naked restless garden that descends   
from the crouched pine
to shellfish caught in flat reflecting sands.

We lose the childish avarice of horizons. The sea ends   
against another shore. The cracked ribs of a wreck   
project from the washed beach.
Under the shell-encrusted timbers
dripping brine
plucks at the silence of slant chambers
opening seaward. What moving keel remembers   
such things as here are buried under sand?

The transitory ponds and smooth bar slide
easily under the advancing tide,   
emerging with the moon’s   
            Clear lagoons
behind the shattered hulk, thin   
movements of sea grass on the dune rim
bending against cloud, these things are oursI
Submissive to the sea and wind,   
resistful of all else, sand
is the beginning and the end   
of our dominion.

Mary Barnard, “Shoreline” from Collected Poems (Portland: Breitenbush, 1979). Used by permission of the Estate of Mary Barnard.

Source: Poetry (February 1935).


This poem originally appeared in the February 1935 issue of Poetry magazine

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February 1935
 Mary  Barnard


Mary Barnard was born in Vancouver, Washington and attended Reed College where she received her bachelor’s degree in 1932. Her works include A Few Poems (1952), The Mythmakers (1966), Three Fables (1975) and Nantucket Genesis: The Tale of My Tribe (1988). She was awarded Poetry Magazine’s Levinson Award in 1935, the Elliston award for her book Collected Poems (1979), the Western States Book Award in 1986 for her book Time and . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Nature, Trees & Flowers, Seas, Rivers, & Streams, Animals

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