‘Going away and returning’ by Raymond Wilson and ‘First visit to the seaside’ by Phoebe Hesketh share as a central theme a day trip to the seaside. They create vivid images and recollections as we remember our own visits to the sea, but are used within the poems in different ways. The title ‘First visit to the Seaside’ immediately tells you what the poem will be about. The fact that it is the ‘first visit’ of the author to the seaside shows that the poet is recounting childhood memories, and as such the poem takes on a child-like quality in its portrayal of the innocent beauty of the first visit to the sea.
This contrasts with the far more cryptic title ‘Going away and returning’, which is a far more forbidding, less cheerful hint at a theme of travel. Both poets give a chronological account of their day, while differing greatly in their enjoyment and enthusiasm for it. In Wilson’s poem, everything is distinctly colourless, ‘grey’ and lifeless; no excitement evoked by the view of the sea. Hesketh’s poem, however, is full of exuberance and anticipation, happiness on arrival; all colourful, with ‘blue’, ‘silver’ and ‘green’, all of which are bright and cheerful colours one would expect to see on a good, sunny day.
This recognition of the incredible beauty of the sea and seaside shows a child’s view of the sea as an ideal destination, and one associated with fun, joy and holidays. Both poems are structured clearly to reflect the passing day, with a new verse after arriving, one for the main part of the day and a last verse for the leaving and returning home. Both poems depict vividly the assault on the sense a seaside visit brings, although the experience differs for both poets. In ‘First visit to the Seaside’ the many colours allow us to imagine the scene, which is then added to by the ‘music…
buskers… the band on the pier… the pounding of waves’. This helps draw the reader into the poem, experiencing everything as Wilson did, all the sights and sounds. The sense of wonder conveyed by the sights and sounds reflects a feeling of vibrancy about the bay and town, which are in all probability a stark contrast to his usual habitation, perhaps a ‘slum street’ as alluded to – ‘sand-dunes where slum streets… should be’. ‘Going away and returning’ however, shows rather less positivity in its assessment of what can be an amazing experience. The colours are limited to ‘white’ and ‘grey’.
Waves are ‘slopping’, a listless sound which one could almost imagine as being onomatopoeic. In contrast to ‘First visit to the seaside’, explored through the eyes of a child, ‘Going away and returning’ has a distinctly adult tone; no child is cynical or world-weary enough to write a somewhat depressing and hard-edged poem on a seaside visit! This mood, present throughout Hesketh’s poem, suggests the futility of such seaside escapes, and ponders the jaded and clichi?? d nature of the ‘Great British seaside visit’. On arrival, the parade is ‘grey’, and ‘Bella Vista’ is ‘gleaming gull-grey’.
The repetition of ‘grey’ emphasises the lifelessness the author feels is present, and a lack of energy she herself may also be experiencing. Grey is a dull shade of colour, not associated with cheer or happiness, which is evidently Hesketh’s idea of the seaside. The sea reinforces this, with the ‘tired waves’ that ‘flap-flop, slopping on grey stones’. The word ‘tired’ describing waves reflects the author’s own mentality, exhaustion, which she apparently perceives as being everywhere. A stark contrast to Wilson’s poem – so much for the ‘brilliancy of rippled wavelets’!
‘Going away and returning’ then moves on to the tired clichi?? s of any seaside town. Deckchairs, paddling children, people – and noise. In a flash of spitefulness, the sandcastles built by children that give them such pleasure, that they take pride in, are described as being ‘built to be washed away’. The line suggests their futility, and is a metaphor for Hesketh’s view of the people: how pointless their lives and activities are, equally as futile as a sandcastle, and will be washed away… this mood and idea is reinforced by the final passage of the poem, in which a return home is shown.
The day away has changed nothing; the ‘letter unanswered on the fridge’ is still there, the ‘dead flowers’ are in the ‘same vase’. A contrast to the end of ‘First visit to the Seaside’, where even leaving is comparatively happy. The final image is of lights on both the prom and pier glowing ‘dimly’ in the night, as they recede into the distance, with stars ‘winking’ and ‘glimmering’, a final piece of magic as the day draws to a close. While I enjoyed both poems, I much preferred the vibrant, cheerful and vivid impression Wilson creates of his first visit to the seaside.