A Jetty: Margate: Joseph Mallord William Mallord Turner, 1840s, watercolour over graphite pencil on paper, 23 x 32.8 cm (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)
My melancholy watch, mid-quarter-deck,
Drifting: I follow the play of gulls.
The sun is long gone down, the east darkling,
The ship drifts. In the west, some brightness remains.
Momently there are two flights of gulls moving
One to the east into the dark and one
Out of the west, in the last rays of the sun,
Left and right so entirely dissimilar
That the name gull quite falls from them
As I watch, and the chiaroscuro
Of the evening is torn open, altering
Everything: so that now everything is
Only itself: the gulls, myself closer
In nature than if I still knew their name,
Yet at the same time moving farther out,
Sinking deeper into a fading sky
Which soaks them up like ink accepting water,
Coaxing darkness out of reluctant night,
Bringing on the abolition of that false
Identity which made naming possible.
From Junkets on a Sad Planet: Scenes from the Life of John Keats by Tom Clark (1994)