THALATTA: A BOOK FOR THE SEA-SIDE - American Literature of the Sea and Great Lakes

American Literature of the Sea and Great Lakes

THALATTA: A BOOK FOR THE SEA-SIDE (1853). Published by Tick- nor, Reed, and Fields in Boston, this collection of poems was apparently intended for vacation reading. Although the book’s title page gave no indication of editorship, bibliographers ascribe it to Samuel Longfellow (1819-1892), brother of the famous poet, and his Harvard Divinity School classmate Thomas Wentworth Higginson* (1823-1911). The title allusion to the Greek word for the sea in Xenophon’s writings is picked up by the anthology’s second poem as translated from Heinrich Heine.

Among the 127 poems collected are a passage from Homer, songs from Shakespeare, Scottish ballads, and translations from Spanish as well as German. Even so, Thalatta heavily features works by nineteenth-century English and American writers of varying degrees of prominence, and readers would have felt comfortable in perusing the book among friends. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Wordsworth, John Keats, George Gordon Lord Byron, Thomas Hood, Charles Kingsley, Sir Walter Scott, Elizabeth and Robert Browning, and Thomas Moore appear in company with John Green-leaf Whittier,* James Russell Lowell,* Henry David Thoreau,* Felicia He- mans, and many other writers, including both editors and the publisher James T. Fields. Six poems by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow* exceed the number allotted to any other poet except “Anonymous.”

There is no evident chronological, national, or formal principle of organization. Edgar Allan Poe’s* “Annabel Lee,” for instance, turns up between Alfred Lord Tennyson’s “ ‘Ask Me No More’ ” and Anne Whitney’s “Bertha.” Yet there seem to be loose tonal or thematic groupings, as where “The Wreck of the Hesperus” appears among several lyric or narrative poems relating to storms. The overall impression is that this is a book to be picked up, leafed through, and read from in the manner suggested by Caroline Sheridan Norton in the opening poem, “Prelude,” whose speaker invites us to take “some volume of our choice, Full of a quiet poetry of thought” (1) for summer recreation by the shore. [See also SEA IMAGERY IN MODERN AND CONTEMPORARY POETRY]

Jane Donahue Eberwein