Growing up in the North Country and with family well inland in Pennsylvania and Indiana, I was twelve before I ever saw the ocean. I couldn’t get my mind around it. I still can’t, but I find myself drawn there whenever the opportunity arises.

So I spent the week before this with my wife in southern Maine, along one of our favorites stretches of the land’s margin.


Along The Marginal Way in Ogunquit, Maine. Photo: Dale Hobson


Shorebirds run back and forth in time
with the surf that gains a few inches
with each pulse of rising tide. Benches
along The Marginal Way are full today —
finally some sun and that unbroken view
from here clear to the curve of the earth.

What is near is sweet: sun, wind, rock
breaking water, water breaking rock,
plains of marsh grass, bright beach rose
and gnarled cedar, your arm around me,
the cries of gulls, the trill of songbirds.
But my eyes seek beyond the breakers.

The ocean drags at me as the moon
drags at the sea. Just to see is to be
immersed; just to hear to be in synch.
“Attention,” Mary Oliver writes,
“is the beginning of devotion.” And
my attention is drawn to distances.

Winding our way back, I drift in
and out of our conversation, distracted
by the one word the Atlantic booms
without ceasing. I break upon the edge
of understanding it, only to fall away.
The sea, too, finds its limit at the shore.

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6 Comments on “Marginalia”

  1. Pete Klein says:

    Nice poem and I can understand the “trying to get your mind around the ocean” thing but from a different point of view.
    I truly like the Adirondacks but I am not impressed with its lakes, even the so called big ones. They are all puddles to me, having grown up in Michigan.
    The Great Lakes can inspire the same awe as the ocean for two reasons. They can be deadly and you can’t see across them.
    Booming? I will always remember the morning when I was woken by Lake Huron crashing on the beach somewhere between a quarter to a half mile away from the cabin I was vacationing at as a child of 12 or 13 with my cousins. We all got up and went down to the beach where we had a great time body surfing. Superior is colder than the Atlantic. Not as big but large and deep enough to act like an ocean. If you think about it, large waters like the Great Lakes and the oceans make up the largest wilderness areas there are. You can visit but you can’t live there. The fish own them.

  2. Helene vanderburgh says:

    How beautiful, Dale. Thank you for sharing. I love Ogunquit in the fall without crowds. You capture the spot so well

  3. I’ve never been a devotee of poetry. I always found it to be too pretensions and precious. But the offerings that Dale Hobson contributes to his weekly NCPR email are–in my mind–“rare, precious and beautiful”, to borrow from a late-1960’s compilation of albums by Bee Gees.

    Dale, you are a talent, and NCPR is fortunate to have you.



  4. Ginger Dunlap-Dietz says:

    Thank you Dale from the shore of Lake Ontario. Different, less persistent rhythms but evocative and mesmerizing.

  5. Dale Burnett says:

    Loved your poem, Dale. You gave words to my own ocean feelings better than I ever could. Universal feelings, I believe.

  6. I grew up on Long Island and have ocean water in my blood and Long Beach sand in my shoes. These days I’m repeatedly drawn to the New England coast. This poem is wonderfully evocative, Dale. Please, keep them coming.

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