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Rapt

“I must go down to the sea again, 
to the lonely sea and the sky…” —John Masefield 

Today I felt the roil of sky and sea
Merge to form a swathe of seamless blue,
Where surge of wave and breeze found harmony;
A smooth and lucent fusion filled my view.
A melding of the ocean and the air
Blended till their boundaries coalesced.
Their brackish union wrapped me in a prayer
And whispered of an earth that’s heaven blessed…

A world where feathered wing can dive then ride
And sail the swish of mares’ tails overhead;
A world where scale and fin glide with the tide
And swoop through curls of kelp on briny bed.

Today I flew the seas and swam the skies
As crest and cloud connived before my eyes.

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Ode to an Octopus

Shape-shifter of the sea, I’ve come to love
Your strange sophistication; out of place
In liquid labyrinths—your form sings of
Odd creatures from the sphere of outer space.
Yet here among anemones and fish,
An ocean star shines beautiful and bright.
Your flirty skirt of legs skims past a reef
In colors conjured by an inner wish
To hide your blushing pulse of pure delight,
As awestruck eyes look on in disbelief.

Houdini of the blue, you shrink and slink
Through crevices defying common sense.
Contortion and a dirty squirt of ink
Hoodwink eel and shark. Your skill’s immense!
From jiggle-jelly soft to craggy rock,
You morph from smooth to rough with ease and speed,
Invisible to those who crave your taste.
The predators, they circle, and they flock;
Your flesh so sweet, they’re driven by their greed—
A frenzied greed your guise will lay to waste.

Some see you as a gorgon of the waves;
A devil of earth’s salty, surging swell,
A digger of dead sailor’s briny graves,
A slimy siren crooning men to hell,
A Kraken sucking rasping gasps of breath
From lungs that burn for draughts of quenching air.
Once I feared you. Now I understand.
I see a soul, defying threat of death
With triple-hearted grace and wicked flair,
Fair mollusk of the surf and golden sand.

First published in Snakeskin

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Susan Jarvis Bryant is a church secretary and poet whose homeland is Kent, England.  She is now an American citizen living on the coastal plains of Texas.  Susan has poetry published in the UK webzine, Lighten Up On Line, The Daily Mail, and Openings (anthologies of poems by Open University Poets).


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33 Responses

  1. C.B. Anderson

    How peculiar to see your octopus poem again. Just yesterday I read it in SNAKESKIN as I was preparing a submission to that fine e-zine of long standing. As it happens, I ate some octopus today in a seafood medley I had prepared two days ago. Truly amazing critters they are, and as smart as dogs, I’ve read.

    Reply
    • Susan Jarvis Bryant

      C.B., how spooky! I have just been to George Simmers’ Zoom book launch of “Old and Bookish”. He read eight or ten of his poems from the book and I thoroughly recommend it to every member here who loves rhyme, rhythm and free and feisty speech. I hope my Octopus Ode was as good as the meal 😉

      Reply
  2. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Evan & SCP, thank you for the chosen picture – I have spent many a holiday on the Cornish coast, and it holds special memories for me. It is the perfect image to go with my poems and has made my day!

    Reply
  3. Paul Freeman

    I particularly liked the octopus poem. The focus and detail in describing this unique cephalopod are quite amazing.

    Reply
  4. Peter Hartley

    Susan – Both of these poems for me are brilliant in descriptive powers, the second particularly so with the use of language that would certainly engender a double take in prose, as for example the dialect word “roil” which is probably better known now in the USA than it is here and lucent which is unusual but won’t send anyone scurrying for a dictionary if they have the least smattering of Latin. There are immensely felicitous phrases here, like curls of kelp on briny bed. In the Octopus we are taught the salutary lesson to find beauty in the deeps where most of us are more likely to find the mildly hideous, or the exceedingly repulsive; a lesson the Ancient Mariner at length began to see in his Rime. There is a shedload of assonance here too with felicitously chosen words like rasping gasps / flair and fair, slimy / siren. Even what I thought was a bit of, in this case welcome, archaism in the spelling of mollusk as we would have done in the U.K. in the eighteenth century but which I have since learned is a standard spelling in the US. Every word in both these poems on distant view just seem right and unobtrusive. On closer examination they seem perfect, by which I mean it would be well-nigh impossible, surely, to come up with a better word in the context. These poems, both of them, are remarkable.

    Reply
    • Susan Jarvis Bryant

      Peter, a heartfelt thank you for your appreciation of my poetic effort to bring to readers a feeling and a vision I desperately want to share. It’s so satisfying when I hear that I’ve achieved my aim. It’s esteemed poets like you that make my effort worthwhile and I thank you wholeheartedly for your beautiful words, your appreciation, and, above all, your understanding.

      Reply
    • Susan Jarvis Bryant

      Peter, also your “mollusk” observation is spot on. As you can see, my octopus poem was first published in “Snakeskin” (a UK ezine), and because it’s British, I used the British spelling of “mollusc”. I try to spell according to the location of the site… very confusing for me, and, having lived in Texas for a decade, I’m now not quite so sure of the spelling differences. This leaves a woman who’s very fastidious about English grammar and spelling in constant flux!! Please bear with me. 🙂

      Reply
      • Jason Dain

        Ah me. I am tempted to say “oh dear”.
        There is too much to say to record my thoughts on reading this one of Susan’s rich poems and
        Peter Hartley’s equally rich analysis and commentary.
        ‘Rapt’ is ‘apt’ as a title. I enjoyed this thought as I became absorbed in reading, then had yet another of Susan’s rich poems – the ‘Ode’ – to consume and find myself immersed in yet again.

        One aspect – I hope this isn’t seen as sacrilege – of my enjoyment in these poems is to focus almost exclusively on the words and expressions used, and on picking up the rhythm generated by these words and particular syllables, doing this with no regard to thinking about the subject. I have always done this in a more abstract way in reading Jane Austen. I never try to follow the story; it is her ways of narrating peoples’ thoughts I feed on and not what she actually says about them.

        So it is too with Susan’s poems. But in this process of my ‘neglect’ of what she is telling us, I find the picture she is describing unfolds in my mind from the words I have been absorbing. This reveals for me a more profound and perhaps even unconscious skill of a poet: to use language – and English is less a language of beauty than it is a language in which words and constructions of phrases can be employed with admirable skill and result – in such a way that it generates a picture from this employment. I contrast this with the more prosaic approach: to take a subject, and embark on ways of describing it. Less fun; less purpose; to picture the subject already before reading a description of it almost has no purpose.
        Susan: you mustn’t rest. The accolades you earn should tell you you have a great deal more silk to spin out before you lay your pen down.

      • Susan Jarvis Bryant

        Jason, thank you so very much for this beautiful comment. I love your analysis. I always try to paint a picture in words. The musicality coupled with the meaning of words excite me, and if I can get the carefully chosen words to melt away and create a picture in the mind of the reader that takes the imagination to other realms… my aim has been accomplished.

        It’s wonderful that you mention Jane Austen. She uses the narrative technique of focalisation to elevate her characters voices to exist separate and apart from the possibly overbearing voice of a narrator… I like to do that. I like readers to see the image I’m painting with words, not to hear words and words alone… showing, not telling.

        Thank you very much for your fine eye for detail and your appreciation.

  5. Joe Tessitore

    Beautiful poetry, Susan, and to write about the octopus, of all things!

    PBS did a special on one raised in captivity a few years ago and highlighted its “passing cloud” reaction – a camouflage technique that is truly breathtaking.
    I recommend a trip to You Tube to see it in action.

    Reply
    • Susan Jarvis Bryant

      Thank you, Joe. Mike and I are going to watch this. I have a fear of octopi. To me they look like freaky spiders. This poem was inspired by the film; “My Octopus Teacher”, which got me to look at these creatures from a different point of view. I believe poetry is the medium that brings an exciting vision to the mundane, and although I wouldn’t want an octopus as a pet, I now understand and love its unique persona… I hope my words have brought a beautiful perspective to this demon of the sea.

      Reply
  6. Jeff Eardley

    Susan, I cannot, for one minute top Peter’s comments on these two so I am not going to try. This is poetry of the highest order and a pure delight to read out loud, I think Peter once mentioned that your poetry should be on the lips of all children, and I agree, totally. Thank you again for brightening up yet another dark day over here.

    Reply
  7. BRIAN YAPKO

    Susan, both of these poems are gems in their own way, though of the two I’m partial to Rapt. It has an elusive tone which bespeaks both nostalgia and mystery. Plus I’m a sucker for internal rhyme, so a phrase like “glide with the tide” makes me smile. As for the Ode, I’ve always been a bit afraid of octopi. You make them seem noble. As always, your work both amuses and instructs. A treat to read them. Thank you.

    Reply
    • Susan Jarvis Bryant

      Brian, I know you have a fine eye for poetry because your works are inspirational and a treat to read… I am glad you feel the same about mine. Thank you very much.

      Reply
  8. Joseph S. Salemi

    “Ode to an Octopus” is very good, with arresting and unexpected language. Also, I’m glad that you have done what is expected in an ode — you have written it as a direct address to its subject. Too many people write “odes” that fail to do this. They think that “ode” just means “poem.”

    The first four lines of the third stanza are exquisite.

    Reply
    • Susan Jarvis Bryant

      Joe S., thank you very much for this. I tried to offer a fresh and unusual view in my Octopus Ode. I wanted to see these fearsome looking creatures in a new light and will admit to having to draw on the deepest recesses of my imagination to uncover their beauty. Now, those writhing sucker-stippled spider-like protrusions are just a “flirty skirt of legs” – much better.

      Reply
  9. Terry L. Norton

    Both poems – what a delight. My preference, though, is the ode, particularly the use of such images as “flirty skirt” with its sound effect; “Houdini of the sea”; “gorgon of the waves,” suggesting the tentacles of the mollusk moving like Medusa’s writhing locks; and “slimy siren.”

    Reply
    • Susan Jarvis Bryant

      Thank you very much, Terry. I know you have a discerning eye when it comes to descriptions of animals, so I’m thrilled you enjoyed my humble attempt at seeing the very best in an octopus… in fact, I’m beginning to warm to them, but they will never produce that beam of joy I feel when I see or hear about a monkey.

      Reply
  10. Cynthia Erlandson

    They’re both beautiful, Susan! But I actually love the first one even more. Your idea of the blending of so many things, starting with blue sky and sea, then wave and breeze, ocean and air, and the ultimate — “earth and heaven” –created a wonderful kind of imagery in which everything “coalesced” in “fusion” and “harmony”.

    Reply
    • Susan Jarvis Bryant

      Cynthia, I’m thrilled you appreciate exactly what I was trying to do in “Rapt”. The beauty and harmony of nature often takes my breath, and I’m drawn to the wonders it provides. For me, a date with Mother Nature does much to alleviate stress and put a smile back on my face. It seems I’m spending more and more time in her company these days. Thank you very much for your lovely comment.

      Reply
  11. Cynthia Erlandson

    I know what you mean about the comforts of nature. This is the time of year I wouldn’t mind living in Texas!

    Reply
  12. Yael

    Those are both lovely and amazing poems Susan, and both of them bring up fond memories of reef diving and ocean swimming adventures I had when I was younger. Every line of Rapt totally resonates with me as it particularly reminds me of one morning when I walked on a deserted stretch of Oregon coast all by myself. The Pacific water was very cold and the day before I had observed that the locals wore wet suits into the ocean. I was there for a short visit only and didn’t have a wet suit, but when I saw a small school of dolphins swim near the beach and wave their flippers at me I couldn’t stay on land any longer. I stripped down to a sturdy bikini and power stroked about 300 feet out to where the dolphins were coming in to meet me. We swam and frolicked together for about fifteen minutes and I felt a caressing flipper and tail glide gently past me. A huge surge of my own adrenaline and endorphins sustained me and being an experienced whitewater guide and rescue swimmer I knew when my time in the water was up. I bid farewell to the dolphins and they headed back out to sea as I swam back to the sandy beach. I ran for about 10 minutes on the beach to dry off and felt myself in complete rapturous love and harmony with the creation and its Creator. Thank you for framing this memory with your beautiful words for me.

    Reply
    • Susan Jarvis Bryant

      Yael, I am glad “Rapt” evoked such a marvelous memory, and thank you so very much for sharing the excitement of it with us… to seize that heavenly moment to swim alongside these aquatic beauties is a gift, indeed. Your skill at conveying the thrill makes me feel I was swimming alongside you. I’m smiling! 🙂

      Reply
  13. Satyananda Sarangi

    Top-notch pieces.
    The first one calls for losing oneself in nature, the other talks of wonder of the natural world.

    Glad to have read them, Susan ma’am.

    Reply
    • Susan Jarvis Bryant

      Thank you very much, Satyananda – your observations and encouragement are much appreciated.

      Reply
  14. David Watt

    Susan, today we returned from a few days away at the coast, and it was my pleasure to read your poems of the sea. The ‘seamless blue’ and ‘surge of wave and breeze’ brings me back to that recent scene. We didn’t see an octopus on this occasion, However, your description definitely captures the essence of this fascinating creature.

    Reply
  15. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    David, it’s always a treat to read your comments. I’m thrilled my poems tapped into your recent ocean getaway… apart from missing being up close and personal with an octopus – a bonus, I feel. There’s nothing like breathing in the sea air and reveling in the scenery to lift the spirits. I hope that drawing on the wonders of your trip will maintain your equilibrium in the turbulent times ahead.

    Reply
  16. Gregory Ross

    I had never thought much of Octopus until your Ode! It is very good describing that sea creature!

    Reply

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