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"Calm Sea" by Jean-Désiré-Gustave Courbet

The sea awoke at midnight from its sleep,
And round the pebbly beaches far and wide
I heard the first wave of the rising tide
Rush onward with uninterrupted sweep;
A voice out of the silence of the deep,
A sound mysteriously multiplied
As of a cataract from the mountain's side,
Or roar of winds upon a wooded steep.
So comes to us at times, from the unknown
And inaccessible solitudes of being,
The rushing of the sea-tides of the soul;
And inspirations, that we deem our own,
Are some divine foreshadowing and foreseeing
Of things beyond our reason or control.

"Sit in reverie and watch the changing color of the waves
that break upon the idle seashore of the mind."
-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


In this poem Longfellow describes the sound of the sea as the waves lap against the shore and the tide rises. He compares the rush of the tide to rushes of inspiration people experience sometimes. He also suggests that those inspirations might be a way of divine "foreshadowing and foreseeing" as opposed to the regularity with which the tide rises. Just like the tide of the sea, the tide of the soul is beyond our control as well.

The obvious imagery in this poem describes the sea and the waves of the tide. However, if you read this poem carefully out loud, not only do the actual words describe the sea and the waves, but the rhythm of the poem go along with this imagery very well.
Notice also that the word "cataract" is not meant in the sense of the eye disorder but means high or very large waterfall.

about the poet:
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was an accomplished American poet. He wrote many well-known pieces in his lifetime, including "Song of hiawatha," "Evangeline," and "Paul Revere's Ride." He was a teacher at Harvard, leaving his mark on New England through the Longfellow House, formerly known as the Craigie House before it was given to him and his wife as a wedding present.
Longfellow was known for writing poetry that was easy to read with a good sense of rhythm.


place and time:
Precedents for Courbet's radically reductive seascapes are found in seventeenth-century Dutch painting and in English watercolors of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries that show a similar concern with water, light, and atmosphere. This seascape was executed in Étratet on the Normandy coast in 1869. Courbet painted this beautiful seascape in Étratet. This is a little village on the Normandy coast in France, where Courbet spent the summer of 1869.

"Calm Sea" is one of the paintings in Gustave Courbet's series of seascapes. These seascapes were prepared for the Salon of 1870, which is an official art exhibition sponsored by the French government. The Salon was first held when Louis XIV held an exhibit for the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture in 1667. Rather than a sporadic event, it eventually became an annual happening in the art world of that time period. The Salon was held in Salon d'Apollon of the Louvre Palace in Paris (hence the name).
The series of seascapes impressed the art world since it didn't hold to the current trends of the Romantic period (which emphasized strict linear shapes). The seascapes emphasized color and light to produce more sensuous and colorful representation.

the artist:
The French Gustave Courbet rebelled against the Romantic style of painting, and led the realist movement. Since the Romantic period tried to idealize of embellish reality, he tried to represent it accurately. His works were very influential in the movements that came after him.
Courbet's reputation grew until his death, even though he received much criticism for his famous "Artist's Studio" of 1855. He held strong political beliefs and was often judged on these. In the 1860's his works became more subtle and colorful.

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title: "Cliffs At Etretat After Storm" by Gustave Courbet
size: 23 in. x 18 in. price: $13.50
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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
This is a great page for biographical information on Longfellow.

Early American Ficition
Another excellent page with biographical information, and including full text of some of Longfellow's shorter poems. (University of Virginia) has full-text poetry online. This links takes you directly to Longfellow's publications.

Selected Poetry of Longfellow
Has some full-text of poetry and some biographical information. (University of Toronto)

Webmuseum: Courbet, Gustave
A site with a short biography and images of selected works.

Mark Harden's Artchive - "Gustave Courbet"
More extensive biographical information, and many images of Courbet's work.

Gustave Courbet on the Internet
Entry in the Artcyclopedia about Courbet, with an extensive list of links.

Sound of the sea a clue to climate
Yes, it's true: scientists are listening to the sound of the sea to determine what effect global warming is having. Nice Science Daily article.

Sound of the sea
Bed and breakfast accommodation, Wilderness, Garden Route, South Africa.

"I Prefer the Sound of the Sea "
Senses of cinema movie review of the movie "I Prefer the Sound of the Sea."

Sound to Sea
Environmental education program, called Sound to Sea.

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