Analysis of "The Sound of the Sea" by Henry Wadswort Longfellow

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“The Sound of the Sea” is a sonnet by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, describing the sounds of the sea and relating it to human inspiration. Through only auditory images of the sea and other powerful natural forces, Longfellow effectively alludes to the nature of human inspiration. Through detailed and sensory imagery, Longfellow communicates the subtle details of the human soul and how inspiration functions.

“The Sound of the Sea” consists of fourteen lines and a particular rhyme scheme (abba abba cde cde). The first eight lines of the poem consist of one drawn out sentence, which is the description of the sound of the sea and other natural forces, which then in the final sestet, which also consists of only one sentence, are used by Longfellow as a metaphor to allude to the inspirations of the human soul. The change in the rhyme scheme of the sonnet and the two concrete sentences, serve to aid this transition from description of the sea to meditation on the source of inspiration. Longfellow uses this depiction of the sea to communicate the nature of human inspiration, which he claims comes to us from an unvisited and solitary space in our soul and though we credit it to ourselves, it is in fact something beyond our control or understanding, something of a divine nature.

With the starting line, Longfellow effectively conveys this concept that inspiration comes from an “inaccessible” space within us by describing the sea as having “awoken” at “midnight”, as midnight is associated with the center of the night, the dark and the unknown, this suggesting that inspiration is aroused within dark dimensions of ourselves, somewhere our conscious mind has not strayed. This also suggests that the sea, whose many vast dark depths remain unexplored, represents this unknown space within our soul, and this imagery is furthered by the description of the wave of the tide rushing onto the “the pebbly beaches far and wide”. Beaches are the extremities of the sea, where land, a...
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