How Long I Sailed by Hartley Coleridge is a sonnet that tells the tale of a sailor who traveled the ocean almost in astonishment. The sailor never bothered to think much about where the ship was headed.
The sonnet is written in a very simple way and it shows the effects of Romanticism in the next generation of poets. Hartley Coleridge was the son of famous Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
What Wordsworth did with nature, Hartley Coleridge did with the sea. Many of his poems deal with the act of sailing and the vast blue oceans.
Coleridge has romanticized sailing, traveling in the ocean and looking at the large waves and bottomless ocean. Let’s take a look at the poem and then at the meaning of it.
How Long I Sailed by Hartley Coleridge
HOW long I sailed, and never took a thought To what port I was bound! Secure as sleep, I dwelt upon the bosom of the deep And perilous sea. And though my ship was fraught With rare and precious fancies, jewels brought From fairyland, no course I cared to keep, Nor changeful wind nor tide I heeded ought, But joyed to feel the merry billows leap, And watch the sunbeams dallying with the waves; Or haply dream what realms beneath may lie Where the clear ocean is an emerald sky, And mermaids warble in their coral caves, Yet vainly woo to me their secret home; — And sweet it were for ever so to roam.
Meaning of the Poem How Long I Sailed
The general thought when it comes to sailing is the people who sail are crossing the ocean like one crosses a bridge; you care only about reaching the other part of the land and that’s it.
But in the sonnet ‘How Long I Sailed,’ Coleridge says through the speaker that sailing is not crossing the sea, but actually being in the sea and being fascinated by it.
Let’s divide the sonnet into stanzas and look at each of them to understand the meaning better.
HOW long I sailed, and never took a thought
To what port I was bound! Secure as sleep,
I dwelt upon the bosom of the deep
And perilous sea. And though my ship was fraught
The speaker says that while sailing he never really cared about where he was heading. He was never afraid of the fact that they were on a frail ship in the midst of this deep and perilous sea.
This stanza shows a sense of comfort, and a feeling of belonging home. You would never feel safe and secure in the middle of the ocean unless you feel that is where you belong.
With rare and precious fancies, jewels brought
From fairyland, no course I cared to keep,
Nor changeful wind nor tide I heeded ought,
But joyed to feel the merry billows leap,
The second stanza continues from the first one. The speaker says that he was not afraid that they were in this frail ship carrying precious jewels brought from some of the most exotic foreign lands.
He did not bother about the course of the ship or about the tides or the changing winds that affect the direction of the ship.
All the speaker was interested in seeing the waves go up and down, and nothing else.
And watch the sunbeams dallying with the waves;
Or haply dream what realms beneath may lie
Where the clear ocean is an emerald sky,
And mermaids warble in their coral caves,
He was so fascinated by the waves, the vastness of the ocean, and the thought of what exists in the ocean, under the waves that he could not think of anything else.
He wondered if there is a sprawling world under the ocean, where the people look at the ocean as ‘emerald sky’ and where mermaids sing in their coral caves.
The poet uses his imagination to create this beautiful world inside the ocean. Where a sailor would find drowning in the bottomless ocean a scary thought, the speaker thinks about the beauty of the place.
Yet vainly woo to me their secret home; –
And sweet it were for ever so to roam.
The couplet concludes the poem with the thought of the speaker to go and visit these coral caves inhabited by mermaids. The speaker says ‘vainly’ because he feels that this place under the ocean is something better than the world above.
Perhaps one day, he says that he would find himself visiting their homes and it would be a sweet experience.
Essence and Theme of the Poem
‘How Long I Sailed’ is the romanticisation of the ocean, just like Daffodils was the romanticisation of a field of daffodils. There is no hidden meaning or message hidden in the poem.
The poem is just about the speaker telling the readers what he feels about the ocean, and how he wants to know what is beneath the waves and dark waters.
The fascinating element of the poem is how disconnected the speaker is to the world. He doesn’t care if the ship were to sink or if they were to lose all the precious jewels with them.
He does not care about where the ship is headed or if they can reach their destination or not. All he cares about is the sea, watching its beauty and wondering what secrets it holds.
Read about more poems by Hartley Coleridge: She is Not Fair to Outward View