And so what is this poem about, then? This poem by. Well. We think he might be an atheist. But maybe he’s an agnostic. Or maybe he’s a closet Christian after all. He did, supposedly, become a Roman Catholic while in the hospital toward the end. Maybe he’s playing with religious ideas all along. Or Christian ideas. Or maybe not.
Who is the singer? Whose spirit is she? Is she the poet’s muse? Is she the poet? Is she the Spirit of God? Is she the emblem of God and of all human makers? One does recall Genesis 1:2: “Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the water.”
Is the singer’s song art? Is it the Bible? What are the words she sings? Does she sing God’s Word into existence here? Why is her song different from the natural world itself? The sea itself? Where do the words that she sings come from? What are the words of her song? What is the melody?
Who is Ramon Fernandez? Why is he pale?
Who is the maker in the last sentence? Is this the singer? Is this someone else? Is this God?
Does any of this have anything to do with baptism, which is both of water and the spirit? Does any of this have to do with the creation of the world? With the creation of our understanding of the world?
In what sense do “the words of the sea” speak of origins? Is this whole poem about origins? Is the whole poem about the mystery of the origin of the physical world? About the mystery of the origin of our art, our saying, our speaking about the physical world?
What does Wally mean by the words, “mimic motion?” What is the ocean imitating? And why does he characterize the ocean’s “mimic motion” as creating a “constant cry?”
Why does Wally say that “The sea is not a mask?” I mean, I never thought of the sea as being a mask. Did you?
And what does he mean by saying that “her phrases stirred/The grinding water and the grasping wind?” Did she create them? Did she merely influence them?
And if the poet and Ramon are walking by the sea, how can they only hear the singer and not the sea itself? After all, the poet says, “But it was she and not the sea we heard.” Wasn’t he right there? Wasn’t the sound of the sea and the wind loud in his ears?
Is the sea truly meaningless? After all, the poet says, “meaningless plungings of water and the wind.” Is the poet contrasting the meaninglessness of the sea with the meaningfulness of the singer’s song?
What world does the singer make? The poet says, “Then we,/As we beheld her striding there alone,/Knew that there never was a world for her/Except the one she sang and, singing, made.” Does she make the meaningless world of the sea that she strides beside? Or does she make the meaningful world of her song? Or does she make both? Does she hear the sea or not? Does she see the sea or not?
Does the singer’s song speak the sea into existence or not?
Is the singer God’s imagination? Or is she our imaginations? Is she what God makes to bring order to the world? Or is she what we make to bring order to our world?
One does not know. There is little in the way of certainty here. There are terms we recognize. There are ideas we work with. There are contrasting but incomplete assertions about this world. The world of this poem. And maybe they bear some relation to the world we live and breathe and love in outside the poem.
Maybe the song that is this poem makes a world. Makes a linguistic object. That is a simulacrum of the world outside it. Or if not a simulacrum, maybe it is the philosophical and theological DNA through which such a world can be made.