Matters of the Sea

By Richard Blanco


“Matters of the Sea” is one of the captivating poems written by Richard Blanco, an influential poet known for his vivid narrative style and themes of identity and belonging. Richard Blanco, who made history as the inaugural poet for Barack Obama’s second swearing-in, often explores the intersection of his personal experiences with larger historical and cultural narratives. “Matters of the Sea” is particularly significant as it was penned to commemorate the reopening of the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Cuba in 2015. The poem resonates with themes of reconciliation and hope amidst political and personal turbulence. 🌊📜

Blanco’s work typically navigates the complexities of his Cuban-American identity, infusing his poetry with emotional depth and a sense of universality. “Matters of the Sea” is no exception, making it a poignant piece in contemporary American poetry, nestled firmly within the genre of public, ceremonial poetry.

Meaning of Matters of the Sea

Opening Section “Matters of the Sea” begins by addressing the geographical and emotional proximity between Cuba and the United States, despite their prolonged estrangement. Blanco vividly portrays the sea as a shared entity that connects rather than divides, using evocative imagery to emphasize the natural bond between the two lands.

Mid Section In the middle stanzas, Blanco shifts from the macroscopic views of lands and seas to the personal, intimate experiences of individuals who have lived through the separation. He uses personal anecdotes and sensory details to bring to life the deep emotional ties that link the people across these waters, showcasing how deeply intertwined their lives and histories are.

Concluding Section The poem concludes on a hopeful note, envisioning a future of renewed connections and mutual understanding. Blanco calls for a celebration of both unity and diversity, urging a collective move forward into a future where the sea continues to unite rather than divide.

Throughout the poem, Blanco’s use of verse helps to emphasize the cyclic nature of reconciliation and the continuous ebb and flow of human relationships, much like the sea itself.

In-depth Analysis

Stanza Dissection and Literary Techniques —

  • Stanza 1: Here, Blanco establishes the setting and theme using powerful visual imagery and personification. The sea is not just a body of water but a vessel carrying emotional and historical weight.
    • Imagery: Descriptions of the sea’s vastness and the shared horizon.
    • Personification: The sea is described as whispering and remembering.

Syntax, Diction, and Figurative Language

  • Syntax: Blanco often employs enjambment to carry thoughts across lines, mirroring the fluidity of the sea and the ongoing nature of the narrative.
  • Diction: The choice of words like “whisper” and “embrace” conveys a softness and intimacy, suggesting a tender reconnection.
  • Figurative Language: Metaphors and similes link the emotional landscape of the individuals to the physical landscapes of their countries.

Themes and Symbols —

  • Theme of Reconciliation: Central to the poem, depicted through the imagery of the sea that separates and yet joins.
  • Symbol of the Horizon: Represents the future possibilities and reunification.

Poetic Devices used in Matters of the Sea

Matters of the SeaExamples and Analysis
Metaphor“The sea as a mirror” – This metaphor reflects the shared characteristics and common history between the divided nations, suggesting that they are not as different as political boundaries might imply.
Alliteration“Sea sings, silently” – The soft ‘s’ sounds enhance the auditory imagery, making the sea’s presence more lyrical and soothing, emphasizing the poem’s peaceful, reconciliatory tone.
Assonance“Hear the heart’s nostalgic beat” – The repetition of the ‘ea’ sound in “hear” and “beat” ties the auditory quality of the poem to its emotional depth, enhancing the musicality of the verses.
Personification“Sea that has witnessed” – By attributing the ability to witness to the sea, Blanco gives it agency and history, making it a silent observer to human events, thus deepening the poem’s historical context.
Simile“like a prayer whispered” – Comparing the act of whispering to prayer emphasizes the sincerity and depth of the emotions involved, highlighting the solemn atmosphere of hope and longing.
Symbolism“Horizon” – Represents the future possibilities and the hope of reconnection, standing as a visual boundary that is both a separator and a link between distant places.
Imagery“The silver glow of the moonlight on the water” – Creates a vivid picture that enhances the poem’s ethereal and hopeful tone, making the scene more tangible and emotionally resonant.
Anaphora“Let us” – This repetition at the beginning of successive lines serves to unify the speaker and the audience, emphasizing collective action and shared hopes.
Enjambment“the sea that touches our feet, / the same sea that touches the shores at both our ends” – The continuation of a thought beyond the line break mirrors the continuity of the sea, which unites disparate shores in a continuous flow.
Hyperbole“Echoed our cries across continents” – This exaggeration stresses the vast emotional and historical impact of the events described, amplifying the poem’s dramatic and emotional intensity.

Matters of the Sea – FAQs

What inspired Richard Blanco to write ‘Matters of the Sea’?

  • Richard Blanco was inspired to write “Matters of the Sea” to mark the historic reopening of the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Cuba. The poem reflects themes of reconciliation and hope in the context of the renewed diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba.

How does ‘Matters of the Sea’ reflect Blanco’s cultural background?

  • The poem reflects Blanco’s Cuban-American heritage by addressing the complex feelings associated with the geographical and emotional distances between his two homelands. It explores themes of identity, belonging, and the pain of separation, which are central to much of his work.

Why is the sea a significant motif in the poem?

  • The sea is significant as it represents both a barrier and a bridge between Cuba and the United States, symbolizing separation and connection. It acts as a recurring motif to underscore the shared history and future between the two nations.

What are the main themes of ‘Matters of the Sea’?

  • Main themes include reconciliation, hope, identity, cultural heritage, and the power of nature to both divide and unite. The poem uses the sea as a central metaphor to explore these interconnected themes.

What is the significance of the title ‘Matters of the Sea’?

  • The title “Matters of the Sea” alludes to the central importance of the sea in the poem, which acts as both a literal and metaphorical medium connecting cultures and histories. It emphasizes that these “matters,” or issues, related to the sea are of profound importance and are deeply entwined with human emotions and political landscapes.

How does Richard Blanco use language to evoke emotion in ‘Matters of the Sea’?

  • Blanco uses a combination of poetic devices such as metaphor, personification, and imagery to evoke a strong emotional response. His language carefully balances the personal and the universal, making the reader feel the deep emotional currents of separation, longing, and hope for reconciliation.

Can ‘Matters of the Sea’ be considered a political poem?

  • Yes, “Matters of the Sea” can be considered political due to its context and themes. It was written for a significant diplomatic event, and it addresses the broader implications of Cuban-American relations through the lens of shared heritage and future reconciliation. The poem uses personal sentiment to address political realities, making it a powerful piece of public poetry.

What role does imagery play in ‘Matters of the Sea’?

  • Imagery plays a crucial role in the poem, vividly bringing to life the sensory experiences of the sea and its surroundings. This helps to ground the abstract themes of connection and separation in concrete images, making the poem’s message more accessible and emotionally impactful.

Matters of the Sea Study Guide

Exercise: Analyze the following verse from “Matters of the Sea” and list all poetic devices used.

“The sea that has witnessed our pain, the sea that has echoed our cries, let it now carry us forward, towards the promise of tomorrow.”

Answer Key:

  • Personification: “The sea that has witnessed our pain”
  • Metaphor: “carry us forward”
  • Symbolism: “promise of tomorrow”
  • Anaphora: Repeated use of “the sea” to emphasize its significance

This exercise helps students identify and understand the poetic devices that contribute to the depth and resonance of the poem’s themes.