Poet’s Challenge 9: Fix This Poem (‘The Sea Bird to the Wave’ by Padraic Colum)


Wave Bird Sea

Here’s Tuesday, and a fortnight lies before us in which I want to pursue a new kind of poet’s challenge. It is a challenge of revision and close inspection and critique and a labor of love.

Here’s a poem I’ve always wanted to love, but couldn’t quite. It was written by Padraic Colum 1881 – 1972. It’s tiny, and that’s a challenge of its own. To say enough, to encapsulate a complete, working beauty, in just 11 lines – well, it’s not surprising that he didn’t quite succeed.

The Sea Bird to the Wave

On and on
O white brother!
Thunder does not daunt thee!
How thou movest!
By thine impulse-
With no wing!
Fairest thing
The wide sea shows me!
On and on
O white brother!
Art thou gone!

I think it’s well imagined, but not so well executed. Let’s do like the ancient and medieval writers, and bring this work forward into fuller realization through collaboration with the dead.

We can take the idea and give it completely or mostly new words (and punctuation!!!) We can tweak the words that are already there. We can do pretty much anything as long as the poem is still recognizable in some way.

The challenge opens on March 1st, 2016. As always, challenges remain open forever.




    • Well, first of all, the racist element has to go. Waves are not exactly white any way. Then the the praise for unhealthy irrational behavior (moving by impulse rather than by design). As for the incorrect science (waves are energy, not actual objects), I suppose poetry allows for some leeway here. But a bird that talks to something that’s not there–I think that’s definitely a sexist cliche. Birds as delicate, smooth, beautiful creatures who are easily entranced, imagining all sorts of relationships; waves as powerful but blind, out of control forces, who disappear without so much as a by-your-leave. No, this poem needs serious attention


Comment rules: name and email required; website not required. No more than 2 links, please. Markdown is enabled. Enclose with 1 asterisk for italics, or 2 asterisks for bold.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.