The poem The Tide Rises the Tide Falls by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is all about the process of birth-death-rebirth in the world. The plot is set at a sea-shore and the theme revolves around the sad reality of temporary life on Earth.
The Tide Rises the Tide Falls Summary
The poem begins with the phrase The tide rises, the tide falls which is repeated multiple times. There can be two meanings of this phrase. First, it simply means that the tides of the sea keep rising and falling and the process is eternal and never-ending.
However, as the poem is quite symbolic, the tide here means life. In this sense, the phrase means that there is birth (rise) and call of death (fall) of human life on earth.
In the next line, the poet says The twilight darkens, the curlew calls. Twilight means soft glowing light when the sun is about to set. The line thus means that the evening appears that darkens the sunlight and there is calling of the curlew (bird).
Calling of curlew refers to the approaching death. In the 3rd line, a character, a traveller is introduced who is walking along the sea-sands damp and brown hastens toward the town. Damp means wet and brown is the colour of at the time of dusk.
The phrase in the simple sense means that the traveller is walking along the sea shores at the time of dusk and is going towards town. However, in a deeper context, the traveller is a human being who is old now. The dark scene of sea-shore depicts his final stage and town here refers to death.
In the final line, the poet repeats the phrase and the tide rises, the tide falls meaning that birth-death-rebirth goes on for eternity but the life of humans is temporary.
In stanza 2, the darkness settles on roofs and walls i.e. the darkness finally takes over the light of the town. Here we can see a major shift from the sea (lonely place) to town (full of people).
In the next line, the phrase the sea is repeated to create a poetic effect. According to the poet, though the town is silent now (as it is night and everybody is sleeping), the sea keeps calling i.e. it keeps making sounds.
In a deeper sense, the line means that though the people in the town sleep in the hope of the morning, the sea or the death keeps calling. This is the second call (out of three) in the poem. The call means the death. In the third line, the scene again shifts back to the traveller.
The poet says that The little waves, with their soft, white hands, Efface the footprints in the sands. Here the poet personifies the waves by describing its soft, white hands which simply refers to the form of the waves (they are soft and white because of foam).
Efface simply means erase. Hence the lines here mean that after the traveller has gone away (i.e. died), the waves erase his footprints in the sand i.e. erase his existence from the world. After some time his memories also fade away from the world.
In the final line, the poet repeats the phrase And the tide rises the tide falls i.e. birth-death-rebirth goes on for eternity but the life of humans is temporary.
In the last stanza, the scene shifts to the morning time. According to the poet, the morning breaks i.e. the new morning finally comes, or in a deeper sense, there is the rebirth.
The steeds (horses) in their stalls (where they live) make noise by striking their paws on the ground and neighing (voice of horse) when the hostler (one who looks after the horses) calls them.
This is the third call in the poem. The call is for life. (or in the other sense, rebirth). Thus the three calls (curlew’s, sea’s and hostler’s). And the day returns i.e. the new life starts developing.
However, the traveller will never return to the shores i.e. the dead will never return back and still, the life is back to the normal. This is how life in the world goes on.
In the final line again the line And the tide rises the tide falls is repeated i.e. birth-death-rebirth goes on for eternity but the life of humans is temporary.
Key Thoughts in The Tide Rises the Tide Falls
The Tide Rises the Tide Falls by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is a dark poem in which the poet reveals the sad reality of life in the world. According to him, the cycle of birth-death-rebirth goes on for eternity.
Some people die while others are born. Death erases the history of the dead people and those who are born follow the same cycle. Death, here The sea, is history erasing because the people vanish away in its vastness.