It's no secret that here at Martide we love some great seafarer quotes. Anyone who's read any of our other blog posts featuring inspirational quotes for seamen can tell you that!
So for this post we thought it would be a nice idea to put together ten of our favorite seamanship quotes that come from books about that thing that features so heavily in all of our lives: the sea.
And as well as the seaman quotes themselves, we've also added some information about the people who wrote or said them so that if you like, you can go on a deep dive and find out more about the people behind these words of wisdom too.
So, without further ado, here are:
10 of Martide’s favorite seafarer quotes about the sea
- “We need the tonic of wildness...At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.” Henry David Thoreau, Walden: Or, Life in the Woods
Thoreau was born in Concord, Massachusetts, USA in 1817. He was a poet, philosopher and environmental scientist, and Walden: Or, Life in the Woods was his best known work.
He was also involved in, and an advocate for, civil liberties. Thoreau died, in the place of his birth, Concord, in 1862.
2. “Little islands are all large prisons; one cannot look at the sea without wishing for the wings of a swallow.” - Sir Richard Francis Burton
Born in Devon, England in 1821, Burton was an explorer, writer and translator, who, despite being expelled from Oxford University, published many works, lived all over the world, and had a talent for learning languages. He was specifically known for his explorations and travels in Asia and Africa.
3. “My soul is full of longing
for the secret of the sea,
and the heart of the great ocean
sends a thrilling pulse through me.”
- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
A popular and well known American poet, Longfellow was born in Portland (which was then in Massachusetts, and is now in Maine) in 1807. It was living on the coast that fired the young Longfellow's imagination and his love of sailors, ships and the sea. He went on to teach at Harvard and published numerous poems, books of poetry, and translations.
4. “The heart of man is very much like the sea, it has its storms, it has its tides and in its depths it has its pearls too”- Vincent van Gogh, The Letters of Vincent van Gogh
Dutch painter Vincent Willem van Gogh probably doesn't need much of an introduction thanks to his famous paintings, including The Starry Night, Sunflowers, and his self portraits. Born in Zundert, Netherlands in 1853, van Gogh began working life at the age of 16 as a trainee at an art dealers.
He also worked as a school teacher in England, an assistant in a book store, and a preacher before devoting himself to studying art and taking his first steps as a working artist.
The infamous incident in which van Gogh became plagued by mental illness and cut part of his own ear off occurred in December 1888 after ongoing disagreements with fellow painter, Paul Gaugin. Despite being hospitalized for a year, van Gogh remained a productive artist, although fears for his financial future resulted in him taking his own life in 1890.
5. “I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel's kick and the wind's song and the white sail's shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea's face, and a grey dawn breaking.”
- John Masefield, Sea Fever: Selected Poems
Although well known for his poems about the sea, Salt-Water Ballads, of which Sea Fever was one, Masefield was also an accomplished author of novels for both adults and children, including the children's Christmas classic, The Box of Delights.
Masefield's love of the sea may have been inspired by his real-life experiences - after finishing school he was an apprentice on a windjammer that sailed around Cape Horn. However, this was to be his only voyage and he subsequently worked in a carpet factory in the United States, before returning to his native England to work as a newspaper journalist for a time, before focusing purely on his poems and books.
6. “How foolish to believe we are more powerful than the sea or the sky.” - Ruta Sepetys, Salt to the Sea
Born in 1967 in Detroit, Michigan, USA Ruta Sepetys is an author of Lithuanian heritage who writes historical fiction for adults and young adults. She is a #1 New York Times bestseller and also won the Carnegie Medal.
7. “I spent uncounted hours sitting at the bow looking at the water and the sky, studying each wave, different from the last, seeing how it caught the light, the air, the wind; watching patterns, the sweep of it all, and letting it take me.
The sea.” - Gary Paulsen, Caught by the Sea: My Life on Boats
Another author of young adult fiction, Gary Paulsen was born in 1939 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in the United States. A prolific author, he also writes fiction and nonfiction for adults as well as magazine articles, short stories and plays.
With a genuine love of the wilderness and the ocean, Paulsen divides his time between his home in Alaska, a ranch in New Mexico and his sailing boat on the Pacific Ocean.
8. “There must be something strangely sacred in salt. It is in our tears and in the sea.” - Khalil Gibran
Despite writing his most well known works in English and living in the United States for most of his life, poet Khalil Gibran was actually born in what was then called Ottoman Syria, and is now known as northern Lebanon.
Although Gibran considered himself to be a painter more than a writer, his most famous work, The Prophet, has sold more than ten million copies globally, which makes Gibran one of the world's best selling poets.
9. “Ocean separates lands, not souls..”- Munia Khan
Munia Khan was born in 1981 and is primarily a poet although she also writes articles, and short stories and is the author of one non-fiction book.
10. “The three great elemental sounds in nature are the sound of rain, the sound of wind in a primeval wood, and the sound of outer ocean on a beach. I have heard them all, and of the three elemental voices, that of ocean is the most awesome, beautiful and varied.”- Henry Beston, The Outermost House: A Year of Life on the Great Beach of Cape Cod
The Outermost House, the book from which the above quote came, is considered to be a classic example of naturalist literature.
The house actually existed and Beston, who was born in Massachusetts in 1888, lived there in almost total solitude. With the Atlantic Ocean just outside his front door and marshes behind his home, Outermost House provided the peace and quiet Beston needed after his experiences in World War 1.
Looking for more inspirational seafarer quotes?
If you enjoyed these quotes for seamen, why not take a look at our other posts:
10 of Martide’s Favorite Seafarer Quotes
10 of Martide's Favorite Seaman Quotes About Sailing
10 of Martide's Favorite Seafarer Quotes About Ships
10 Inspirational Quotes for Seamen About Storms
13 of Martide's Favorite Seafarer Quotes About Anchors
10 of Martide's Best Seaman Quotes About the Ocean
12 of Martide's Favorite Seamen Quotes
10 of Martide's Top Seafarer Quotes About Storms at Sea
And don't forget to let us know which of your favorite seaman quotes or quotes about the sea we've missed in the comments below!
This blog post was first published on Dec 27th 2019 and updated on March 25th 2021.