Ten thousand fleets sweep over thee in vain;
Man marks the earth with ruin–his control
Stops with the shore;–upon the watery plain
The wrecks are all thy deed, nor doth remain
A shadow of man’s ravage, save his own,
When for a moment, like a drop of rain,
He sinks into thy depths with bubbling groan,
Without a grave, unknelled, uncoffined, and unknown. (Lines 2-9)
This is from the first of the extracted stanzas from Lord Byron’s Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage (Canto the Fourth). The
stanzas form an apostrophe to the ocean, rolling on and on, and the poet’s unflinching admiration for it. In the present extract, the poet shows the utter helplessness of man against the mighty power of the ocean that despises his selfish, ruthless, destructive designs and deeds.
The ocean rolls on continuously, ceaselessly, in its own course. Man, proud of his pomp and power, is quite helpless on it. Numerous man-made ships pass over the deep, dark, blue waves of the ocean, but they fail to mark any impression on its vast, fathomless surface. Man, with all his selfishness and savagery, indulges in mad acts of destruction on this very earth. But the ocean is not least affected by his power or authority that ends with its shore. Man’s reckless wrecks are not committed on the waves of the ocean. Not the slightest shadow of his violent and cruel deeds can be perceived thereon. In fact, man is absolutely reduced to nothing, when confronted with the ocean. He is
submerged to the invincible fury of the waves and perish helplessly. Those high waves throw him high and his body drops on the surface of the ocean and vanishes into its depth, leaving nothing but the bubbles, coming out his pathetic groans. He dies without any grave, without any ceremonial observation to mark his sad exit.
The stanza bears out certain features of Byron’s poetic gift. His power of description, his love for the immensity of the ocean and his strong derision of man for his vanity and cruelty are all distinctly borne art here. The description of man’s wretched, helpless death in the ocean, “without a grave-unknelled, unconfined, and unknown-” is extremely pointed and ironical of the fate of one, so boastful of his pomp and power, ranks and riches.