Sea-washed

moura

Senior Member
Portuguese Portugal
Hi,
May you help me pls with the meaning of "sea-washed"?

It's in a poem by Emma Lazarus, "The New Colossus", at the beginning:

"Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame/With conquering limbs astride from land to land/Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand..."

Thanks
 
  • moura

    Senior Member
    Portuguese Portugal
    Kat LaQ said:
    It means washed by the sea, like the waves which "wash" (in a figurative sense), the shoreline.

    Thank you Kat LaQ,

    In that case, would it be correct to understand the phrase: "Here at our sea-wahhed, sunset gates shall stand a mighty woman..."
    As:
    Here at our sunset gates (which are) washed by the sea stand a mighty woman... ?
     

    Kat LaQ

    Senior Member
    English, USA
    Yes. You forgot the shall, but I'm assuming that's just a typo.
    There are two adjectives describing gates: sea-washed and sunset.

    As I live in NYC, you are inspiring me to go take a walk on this beautiful spring morning and take a look at that "mighty woman", the famous Statue of Liberty. I hope you like the poem.
     

    moura

    Senior Member
    Portuguese Portugal
    Thank you once again Kat LaQ!

    (yes, there was a "shall" missing...)

    I'm still exploring the poem, but it appears to me rather strong and enthusiastic (though honestly perhaps I'd prefer to take also a walk by the "Mighty woman" herself than being at home working around it...).

    Wish you a nice walk :)
     

    foxfirebrand

    Senior Member
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    What sense does "sunset" gates make, as a description of New York Harbor? It took me a couple or three beats to figure that one out.
    .
     

    maxiogee

    Banned
    English
    Me too, as I felt it should have been sunrise, since no American-in-America can see the sun set at that 'gate', but a gate is an access as well as an egress. The sunset was not only visible to the "huddled masses" as they arrived, it was also a metaphorical sunset on their old lives and old world.
     

    foxfirebrand

    Senior Member
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    Bingo! Correct, of course-- I'm glad you seem to have seen a contradiction initially as I did. Perspective is everything, and gaining the point of view of another person in different circumstances is what the Imagination is all about.

    "The New Colossus" seems like doggerel on first scanning, but for me at least it raises the hair on my arms-- so annoying to think simplistic occasional verse can have that effect on me. It's the little details like "sunset gates" that elevate doggerel into poetry, or public art into the kind of exercise in personal imagination that we have associated with "real" poetry since the modernist era.

    I still think "wretched refuse" is an unfortunate, ugly and almost laughable moment in this verse. It's like walking through a "poetic" park at sunset and seeing the dog's breakfast in the path, right where you were going to step.
    .
     

    maxiogee

    Banned
    English
    foxfirebrand said:
    I still think "wretched refuse" is an unfortunate, ugly and almost laughable moment in this verse. It's like walking through a "poetic" park at sunset and seeing the dog's breakfast in the path, right where you were going to step.

    Whilst I would ordinarily agree with you, not everyone who went to America at that time went 'to better themselves' or even to escape famine/persecuation.

    I motorbiked through Scotland many years ago now. It was some time after I had reasd John Prebble's The Highland Clearances. The effect of the Clearances was that there was a "wretched refuse" which was evicted and forced to seek a living away from the land that had sustained them for centuries. These people were cleared of their lands because the landlords couldn't be bothered with people as a source of revenue, they preferred to raise other herds. ;)
     

    foxfirebrand

    Senior Member
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    Much of my family was forcibly cleared out of the Border Counties, going back to the time of Cromwell.

    I wasn't commenting on the sentiment behind the phrase "wretched refuse," but the language-- on the nuts-and-bolts level of verse construction.

    If you set up "vanilla" and the punchline rhyme is "gorilla," your poetic intention had better not have been serious. In "wretched refuse" the re(ch) -> re(f) progression is too tight-- too proximate and too exact in its iteration. And the wretch/retch ambiguity works to an unintentionally comedic effect. "Refuse" (accent first syllable, unvoiced "s") has become a genteel word for garbage, and the tone struck by such euphemisms in the Victorian Age has died to its last echo-- so the phrase clinks to modern ears, in my opinion, on the sound-and-sense level.

    Finally, refuse that is retched up-- ugly and definitely unintendedly ludicrous image.

    I myself have mentioned the execrable and draconian policies of the English toward Scots and other "troublesome" indigenous minorities in these forums-- usually to give perspective to grievances of black Americans, lo these many generations later, and to argue the unworkability of "reparations." Where's mine?
    .
     

    maxiogee

    Banned
    English
    foxfirebrand said:
    I wasn't commenting on the sentiment behind the phrase "wretched refuse," but the language-- on the nuts-and-bolts level of verse construction.

    If you set up "vanilla" and the punchline rhyme is "gorilla," your poetic intention had better not have been serious. In "wretched refuse" the re(ch) -> re(f) progression is too tight-- too proximate and too exact in its iteration. And the wretch/retch ambiguity works to an unintentionally comedic effect. "Refuse" (accent first syllable, unvoiced "s") has become a genteel word for garbage, and the tone struck by such euphemisms in the Victorian Age has died to its last echo-- so the phrase clinks to modern ears, in my opinion, on the sound-and-sense level.

    Finally, refuse that is retched up-- ugly and definitely unintendedly ludicrous image.

    But there is no 'retching' of refuse.
    The refuse is wretched: "In a very unhappy or unfortunate state".
    Victorians were big on 'wretchedness'. I'd love to see a distribution-chart of the usage of that word by year, and you'd see a huge peak in the latter half of the 19th century. :D

    As for your contention that refuse "has become a genteel word for garbage", the dictionary says that that usage is late Middle English - so I think you're reading an old poem with new eyes and seeing things which weren't put there.

    Where's mine?
    The border counties would welcome you back with open arms. Surely you could expect no greater reparation than that! :D
     
    Top