Victor Hugo wrote repeatedly about the sea. In exile in Guernsey, he could view the sea from his house, so a number of his great sea poems, as well as the novel The Toilers of the Sea (1866), which I have not read, but must, date from that period. Here's the beginning of an earlier sea poem, from 1840:
from Night on the Ocean \ Oceano Nox
Captains seamen how many
leaving light-hearted on distant cruises
vanished beyond the bleak horizon
how many have gone confronting their fate
one fathomless sea one moonless night
buried for ever beneath a blind ocean
The ocean is a destructive force, a killer. Hugo incessantly links the ocean with death, and identifies it as malevolent, as if it had a will, yet natural, which, of course, it is. It has some resemblance to Hugo's conception of God.
The poem is more about the dead sailors than the blind ocean. Their "poor drowned skulls" roll about on the sea-bottom. Men on shore kiss their fiancées "while the green seaweed covers you sleeping." Soon the sailors are forgotten, without even a tombstone or a shipwreck ballad to be "sung by a beggar." The poem ends:
and this is why the sea has a despairing sound
at evening when we hear waves approach the shore!
Does that sound come from the dead men in the sea, or the sea itself?
I'm back to the Harry Guest volume, The Distance, The Shadows. I love what he does with this poem, which, in the original, rhymes and has ten syllables per line and does not have huge gaps in the middle of each line. Guest is duplicating or at least emphasizing the caesurae in the poem, the pauses in each line, that are essential to the rhythm of the French poem but are likely to be ignored or rushed by the English reader. Guest forces them on us.
Hugo's celebrity is based on the crazed pro and con response to his 1830 plat Hernani. My understanding is that the Classicists began booing and howling the very first line, because the caesura was in the wong place. Can I possibly have this story right? It seems nuts. Anyway, my point is, I like what Guest is doing with the pauses.