By Julia Somerset


“Neither Out Far Nor in Deep”
By Robert Frost


The people along the sand
All turn and look one way.
They turn their back on the land.
They look at the sea all day.


As long as it takes to pass
A ship keeps raising its hull;
The wetter ground like glass
Reflects a standing gull


The land may vary more;
But wherever the truth may be–
The water comes ashore,
And the people look at the sea.


They cannot look out far.
They cannot look in deep.
But when was that ever a bar
To any watch they keep?


It is interesting in this poem how Frost describes the people on the beach. He points out that while everything “important” going on happens on land, people somehow can’t stop staring at the ocean. It’s a big, limitless void. Whether we’re supposed to be attending fastidiously to the cares of the world or standing in static contemplation gazing into the blue horizon, there is something about the water that pulls each of us to its edge and asks.


Frost points out that the people standing here staring do not look out far into the future or into the heavens. They do not look deep within themselves, deep within our society. They just sit and watch, unutterable hope, anguish, joy, sorrow, and concern churning within each one, never to find the “local habitation and a name” that Shakespeare wrote about. Without words, our “unutterables” remain such, and so we just keep standing on the beach looking out.


There is nothing about our human experience that requires this. There is no job that demands looking out far or in deep. We will never face a task that cannot be done on the surface level. And the longings within us can stay there. Certainly they will manifest themselves in part in the events and choices that compose our lives, but the ache that alternately blesses and tortures writhes unceasingly in a realm over which words exercise no authority.


And yet we are still drawn to believe that “out far” and “in deep” are somehow important. St. Augustine describes it so well when he says to God, “For you created us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.” The restlessness we feel that draws us to contemplation is the ultimate proof that there is more out there. Could I long for God if he did not exist?