Waiting…and “Watching for Dolphins”.

Our Literary Outdoors…
literature of the Sportsman’s Guide lifestyle.

Recently I ran across the poem “Watching for Dolphins” by David Constantine.  It’s funny, because I was actually thinking about summer vacation and heading back out to the east coast with my daughter.  One of the things we talked about doing if we hit the shore would be a dolphin/whale cruise.

Have you ever done these?  The ones I have done in Cape May…I always saw dolphins but the whales, never.  Ironically, It seems every time someone ELSE in my family has gone, they have seen whales.  I’ll come back to this thought in a moment, but here is the poem:


In the summer months on every crossing to Piraeus

One noticed that certain passengers soon rose

From seats in the packed saloon and with serious

Looks and no acknowledgement of a common purpose

Passed forward through the small door into the bows

To watch for dolphins. One saw them lose


Every other wish. Even the lovers

Turned their desires on the sea, and a fat man

Hung with equipment to photograph the occasion

Stared like a saint, through sad bi-focals; others,

Hopeless themselves, looked to the children for they

Would see dolphins if anyone would. Day after day


Or on their last opportunity all gazed

Undecided whether a flat calm were favourable

Or a sea the sun and the wind between them raised

To a likeness of dolphins. Were gulls a sign, that fell

Screeching from the sky or over an unremarkable place

Sat in a silent school? Every face


After its character implored the sea.

All, unaccustomed, wanted epiphany,

Praying the sky would clang and the abused Aegean

Reverberate with cymbal, gong and drum.

We could not imagine more prayer, and had they then

On the waves, on the climax of our longing come


Smiling, snub-nosed, domed like satyrs, oh

We should have laughed and lifted the children up

Stranger to stranger, pointing how with a leap

They left their element, three or four times, centred

On grace, and heavily and warm re-entered,

Looping the keel. We should have felt them go


Further and further into the deep parts. But soon

We were among the great tankers, under their chains

In black water. We had not seen the dolphins

But woke, blinking. Eyes cast down

With no admission of disappointment the company

Dispersed and prepared to land in the city.


Sidenote…notice how the end of a stanza is finished in the start of the next stanza?  It may feel awkward to read, but that is called enjambment.  I think it actually makes the poem feel choppy, but that’s the purpose…like a rough sea!

So right-off in the first two stanzas, the magnitude anticipation is felt across the board with the the passengers. “Serious looks” and “stared like a saint” show their eagerness, followed by the portentous signs of the sea and gulls as possible indicators of dolphin action.  By the fourth stanza, an epiphany was wanted…a sudden revelation or insight.  And yes, perhaps the religious overtone is not lost on you there, especially since “praying” is mentioned as well.  By the fifth stanza, a dream-like sequence occurs, of being in the presence of the dolphins’ majesty, leaping through the air.  But come the sixth and final stanza, the passengers all “awake” and are back to the reality of being in the sea among the tankers…accompanied by the dismal-sounding “chains in black water”.  And then it’s back to the city.

I can relate to some of this…starting out in some port where the tankers are before embarking to the sea.  Maybe you have taken an exotic cruise that feels like paradise, and then you cruise past an oil rig.  Kind of kills the mood a little?  But I know that I had that hope of looking for whales, waiting, wondering…is that one?  Over there?  Did I miss one?

Have you ever had an experience like this?  Dolphin or whale cruise, fishing trip, etc.?

Click here to watch a video of the author reading the poem.

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4 Responses to “Waiting…and “Watching for Dolphins”.”

  1. Pia fatah

    All this summary is really good but this poem in the end has a really good twist and that is that all the passengers come out of a dream, a realisation hit them about why they really couldn’t fulfill the dream of seeing a dolphin and that is because we killed them. We polluted the sea. All those oil tankers caused pollution due to which they were killed:(
    This poem has deep meanings and I personally love dolphin so it really saddened me , reading this poem!!
    Though I love it

    • bukbuk

      uHhh that’s not what the poem is about you know, it’s about the desires that people have throughout their life time but how they don’t actually do anything about their opportunities

  2. arnav


  3. gundit

    wut no?