The Sea and the Hills | Summary and Analysis

Critical Appreciation of The Sea and the Hills by Rudyard Kipling

The Sea and the Hills is a beautiful poem written by Rudyard Kipling, the famous English poet, journalist, novelist and short story writer. Two verses of this poem, as it was published in Kipling’s collection of poems, “The Five Nations”,  were published in his novel “Kim” (1901). The first verse forms the heading for Chapter 12 and the second is the title of Chapter 13. The poem is fully assembled in

“Inclusive Verse” (1919) and in “Definitive Verso” (1940), Sussex Edition Vol. 21, Vol. 33 and Burwash Edition, Vol. 16 and 26. With the sea forming the central imagery, the poem is an expression of the poet’s poignant desire and longing for company, and his quest for the quiet repose of the mountains as against the turbulent pining of the sea.


The Sea and the Hills | Summary


In the very first line, the speaker questions the fascination that people seem to have for the sea and wonders who were these people who the sea wished for. With its large expanse of salty water and the rhythmic rise and fall of its tumultuous waves, as they passionately ebb and flow along the shore, with the winds howling in tune with their movements, the sea presents a sight full of anguish of some unfulfilled desire. Sometimes, just before the arrival of a storm, the distant water seems to escalate, albeit with a façade of calmness on the surface while at some places, the sea is seen to have almost an air of complete tranquility. At some other times, its surface becomes tempestuous due to the hurricanes that blow across it. Thus, the sea has varied facets, each contrasting the other- sometimes blazing in turmoil and other times subdued and serene. It seems as if it harbours an ardent longing for something, the absence of which brings him immense turmoil. This anguish of the sea is reflected in the hillmen’s desire for the hills. Their yearning for the quietude that the hills offer torments their heart which further fuel their desire. Presenting forth an image of a ship rocking in these turbulent waters of the sea, the speaker says that it seems as if the ship, struck by the intense waves, struggles to remain afloat, shuddering and swerving as the clouds carried by the trade winds surround them. The water beneath is blue just like a sapphire, appearing calm on the surface in spite of the storm that brews underneath. The ship, even as it grapples with the troubles posed by unexpected obstacles such as the cliffs as well as the uproar caused by the waves that keep flinging volleys of waves at its front-end, wonders as to what is it that the sea desires so intently. Be it calm and composed or raging with passion, its intense longing remains the same. Similarly irrespective of whether their state of mind is peaceful or agitated, the hillmen, at all times, pine for the contentment brought to them by the hills.

The sea, now being compared to a woman, can go from being merciful to being intimidating in the blink of an eye. One moment it appears to be calm and composed, and in the very next it takes on a perilous form. The great fog that envelopes is dispersed by a gentle breath of wind blowing through it. An iceberg that is drifting southward melts as it moves, becoming unstable and sometimes throwing off pieces. Amidst the fog, the only warning sign of this approaching iceberg is the loud sound it makes as it breaks. Foam is formed on the surface where the waves break upon these pieces, and it is only the moonlight that enables the sailors to spot this foam and thereby also detect the presence of the reefs which float close to their ship. The sailor, like his forefathers before and and his children ahead of him, despite all dangers posed by the sea, dares to venture out in the sea which is both its servant and his doom. His craving for the adventures of the sea are unfettered by the perils posed by it. It is the same way in which the hillmen long for their hills. No force holds the ability to let go of this desire.

In the third and the final stanza, the speaker highlights the loneliness that engulfs the sea and wonders as to who might desire this solitude. Far from the luxuries and exuberance of the courts and the liveliness of the street where people meet their fellow men and spend time in their company, there are some who long for the peace and quiet of the sea. When they are away from the coast, it seems to them that some harm might befall them among the dust and trees of the upcountry. But the sea offers them great comfort and security, just like one may find at his mother’s bosom. It shall never be unfaithful to them and it is the place that completes them. The soothing tranquility of the sea fulfills their desires and seems to complete them in all ways. This is exactly the contentment which the hillmen find in their hills.


The Sea and the Hills | Analysis


The poem puts forth an excellent and in-depth description of the sea and all its varied shades- from its gentle calmness to its restless agitation. The use of multiple adjectives to describe the sea enhances the picture that the poet has tried to create. The rhythmic rise and fall of the lines adds to this, lending this poem a likeness to the rising and falling waves of the sea. The tone reflects the sense of longing and the thirst for the peace offered by nature. It is frenzied and somewhat chaotic, perfectly mirroring the confusion and the intense desire that burns within him. The rhyme scheme is aabbbcc. The poet has employed the literary technique of repetition, as seen in the reception of “who hath desired the sea”, to emphasize the severity of his yearnings. The speaker asks a lot of questions, with a tone of urgency attached, and seeks to demand an immediate answer suggesting that he is greatly troubled by his unfulfilled desires and seeks respite through all possible means. Beautiful imagery of the sea has been developed which is enhanced by the wave-like flow of the lines. As one reads through the verse, one can very easily picture the sea in its full glory as well as the desire that torments the speaker.






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