Message in a bottle

Paul Celan once described a poem as "a letter in a bottle thrown to sea with the-surely not always strong-hope that it may somehow wash up somewhere, perhaps on the shoreline of the heart." Osip Mandelstam likened the poet to "the shipwrecked sailor who throws a sealed bottle into the sea at a critical moment," and a poem to a "testament of the deceased" that will find "its secret addressee."

The hope incarnated in poetry took on new force this spring when Michael Wall of Derrymore, Ireland, plucked a bottle out of the ocean and found a letter inside dated September 2, 1979 asking the recipient to please write back. A pair of teenage girls had dropped the bottle off a Nantucket (Massachusetts) ferry twenty-one years and three-thousand miles ago. Theirs was the work of a perfect summer day, spontaneously undertaken and skillfully executed.

Wall lives in the same town, works in the same mill, and fishes the same shore he did as a young man in the summer of 1979, the Boston Globe (May 12) reported. The long-parted women have had peripatetic adulthoods. He met the bottle’s advent with an understated awe-"a long journey, you know." They confessed to a rush of longing for things past. The trio plans to meet soon.

Here is an instance of the world’s grace, a happy confluence of human attention and natural caprice, and a reminder of the beauty and pleasure which may come into being when we act and write toward a future unknown to us.

Published in the 2000-06-16 issue: 
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