The Tide Rises, the Tide Falls – Part 1

The Tide Rises, the Tide Falls

The tide rises, the tide falls,
The twilight darkens, the curlew calls;
Along the sea-sands damp and brown
The traveller hastens toward the town,
And the tide rises, the tide falls.

Darkness settles on roofs and walls,
But the sea, the sea in the darkness calls;
The little waves, with their soft, white hands,
Efface the footprints in the sands,
And the tide rises, the tide falls.

The morning breaks; the steeds in their stalls
Stamp and neigh, as the hostler calls;
The day returns, but nevermore
Returns the traveller to the shore,
And the tide rises, the tide falls.


What makes this poem so beautiful? Well, I’m not an expert, but the use of repetition seems particularly effective. The refrain captures both the restless rhythm of nature and the ceaseless passage of time. The stanzas progress through twilight, darkness, and morning, further reinforcing the feeling of time’s movement.

There is mystery in this poem as well. Who is the traveller? Why does he hasten, and what happened to him that he should not return? I believe he is not a person, but rather a symbol. All of us, like him, are travellers, rushing from here to there, just passing through. Our footprints, too, will be effaced (a well-chosen word).

“Efface: to eliminate or make indistinct by or as if by wearing away a surface (coins with dates effaced by wear); also : to cause to vanish (daylight effaced the stars)” –  Merriam Webster

“Erased” would not be nearly as effective; effaced captures the gradual disappearance of the traces we leave behind.

When “the sea in the darkness calls,” summoning “the little waves” with their “soft white hands,” the poem transcends mere melancholy, producing an eerie frisson. I can’t help but think of a shore haunted by ghostly children.

Finally, the lines have repeating words and sounds. The near rhymes are interesting:

“sea-sands” and “hastens”

“waves” and “efface”

Well, those are my thoughts. Any additional comments are welcome. Up next, I’m going to examine the meter of the poem and attempt to get inside Longfellow’s head!

Long-Billed Curlew (Numenius americanus), Fish...

Long-Billed Curlew (Numenius americanus), Fishing Pier, Goose Island State Park, Texas (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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