Seascapes and Sailors


Ashley Bryan (1923–2022)
Seascape (from Sail Away), 2015
Collage of cut colored and painted papers with graphite and printed text mounted on a tracing paper overlay
The Morgan Library & Museum, Gift of the Ashley Bryan Center; 2021.25:6

Courtesy of Smithsonian Folkways Recordings. (p) 1955. Used by permission.
© 2022 The Ashley Bryan Center. Used with Permission.


Sandy Campbell: In this clip, Hughes interweaves two of his poems, “Seascape” and “Sailor,” with stories from his seafaring days.

Langston Hughes: Later, I made a trip as a seaman to Europe. As we neared the English Channel one day, off the coast of Ireland, as our ship passed by, we saw a line of fishing ships etched against the sky. Off the coast of England, as we rode the foam, we saw an Indian merchant man coming home. From foreign ports sailors often bring home souvenirs. From Africa, I brought back a monkey. Some of the sailors brought back parrots or slippers made of leopard skin, or little statuettes of brass or wood. Some sailors collect souvenirs on their own bodies in the form of tattoos, drawings made directly on their skins by tattooing artists in different ports. I once knew such a sailor. He sat up on the rolling deck, half a world away from home and smoked a Capstan cigarette and watched the blue waves tipped with foam. He had a mermaid on his arm, an anchor on his breast, and tattooed on his back he had a blue bird in a nest.