As one of the most iconic poems in the entirety of American literature, “The Tide Rises, the Tide Falls” has fascinated readers and literary scholars for more than a century now. Written by the one and only Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the poem presents a powerful metaphorical reflection on the inevitability of death and the cyclic nature of life.
At the same time, however, the poem’s main theme – the idea that despite how much humanity tries to conquer nature, the natural world will persist regardless – is developed in a gradual, progressive way. As the poem progresses, Longfellow brings in different elements and techniques that help to build up this idea and make it a central part of the poem’s overall meaning.
In this post, we will explore the ways in which Longfellow developed the central theme of “The Tide Rises, the Tide Falls” throughout the poem. We will examine the structure of the poem, the use of repetition and symbolism, and the ways in which Longfellow shifts his focus to different characters and objects to build up the theme in question.
Firstly, let us look at the structure of the poem itself, which plays an important role in the development of its theme. The poem is divided into three separate stanzas, each of which presents a different aspect of the natural world and the relationship between humanity and nature.
In the first stanza, Longfellow focuses on the rising tide, which represents the unstoppable force of nature that persists despite human attempts to tame it. The repetition of the phrase “the tide rises” creates a sense of inevitability and continuity, highlighting the idea that no matter what humans do, nature will always continue on its own path.
The second stanza shifts focus to a traveler who has passed away, highlighting the transience of human life and the fact that all of our efforts to control nature will ultimately be fruitless. Once again, Longfellow uses repetition to emphasize this idea, with the repeated phrase “the traveler has gone” reminding us of the impermanence of human existence in the face of nature’s enduring power.
Finally, in the third stanza, Longfellow brings everything together by painting a picture of the natural world that goes on regardless of humanity’s presence or absence. The final lines of the poem, “the day returns but nevermore/Returns the traveler to the shore,” underscore the inevitability of death and the ultimate victory of nature over all human concerns.
It is worth noting here that the structure of the poem itself reinforces the idea of cyclical patterns that is so central to its meaning. By starting and ending with the image of the rising tide, Longfellow creates a sense of circularity that suggests the perpetual nature of natural cycles – and the futility of human attempts to control them.
In addition to the structural choices made by Longfellow, the poem also relies heavily on the use of repetition and symbolism to build up its central theme. As we have noted already, the repetition of certain phrases throughout the poem – such as “the tide rises” and “the traveler has gone” – creates a sense of continuity and inevitability that underscores the fact that humanity is ultimately powerless in the face of nature’s persistence.
At the same time, Longfellow uses symbolism to drive home this message even further. For example, he describes the traveler’s footprints as being “washed away” by the tide, a powerful metaphor for the way in which all traces of human existence will eventually be erased by the forces of nature.
Similarly, Longfellow contrasts the fleeting “little waves” that humans create with the enduring power of the ocean, suggesting that while we might make our small marks on the world, they will ultimately be insignificant in the grand scheme of things.
Overall, it is clear that Longfellow employs a range of techniques and devices to develop the central theme of “The Tide Rises, the Tide Falls” throughout its three stanzas. By emphasizing the inevitability of natural cycles and the persistence of nature despite human interference, he creates a poignant reflection on the transience of human life and the enduring power of the world around us.
In conclusion, “The Tide Rises, the Tide Falls” is a masterpiece of poetic craftsmanship that reflects both the beauty and the power of the natural world. Through its use of repetitive structures and powerful symbolism, it develops a theme that is both universal and deeply personal, inviting readers to ponder their own place in the interconnected web of life and death that surrounds us all. For more than a century, this poem has resonated with readers and scholars alike – a testament to its enduring power and its ability to capture the essence of the human experience in all its fleeting, fragile glory.