The Tide Rises, the Tide Falls

 

                                                The tide rises, the tide falls,

                                                The twilight darkens, the curlew calls,

                                                Along the sea-sands damp and brown

                                                The traveler hastens toward the town,

                                                    And the tide rises, the tide falls.

 

                                                Darkness settles on roofs and walls,

                                                But the sea, the sea in the darkness calls;

                                                The little waves, with their soft, white hands,

                                                Efface the footprints in the sands,

                                                    And the tide rises, the tide falls.

 

                                                The morning breaks;  the steeds in their stalls

                                                Stamp and neigh, as the hostler calls;

                                                The day returns, but nevermore

                                                Returns the traveler to the shore,

                                                    And the tide rises, the tide falls.

                                                               

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Why does this poem disturb Salamanca so much?  Ask how is her mother Chanhassan a "traveler"?  Where is she going (Idaho to see her cousin) and why (to her cousins' house so she will tell her who she was "underneath" before being a wife and mother) (143)?  Ask what "the shore" is…Ask why the repetition of "the tide rises, the tide falls"? 

Compare the poem to Chanhassan's tale explaining life and death."My mother once told me the Blackfoot story of Napi, the Old Man who created men and women.  To decide if these new people should live forever or die, Napi selected a stone.  'If the stone floats,' he said 'You will live forever.  If it sinks, you will die.'  Napi dropped the stone in the water.  It sank..  People die" (150)."The tide rises, the tide falls."  "It sank.  People die."  Sal also reacts strongly to this legend about life and death, even before her mother dies.  Why didn't Napi use a leaf? 

 

How is Salamanca a traveler and what is she looking for?  She has illusions about finding her mother (p. 141 has some of her self-deceptions).  "We were following along in her footsteps" (40).  "It was only then, when I saw the stone and her name….that I knew, by myself and for myself, that she was not coming back" (268). 

How does she finally come to terms with the facts of life and death?  "We didn't need to bring her body back because she is in the trees, the barn, the fields" (276).  After the sheriff takes her to her mother's gravesite Sal says, "She isn't actually gone at all.  She's singing in the trees" (268).