Words in Intercourse: waves. The Waves. woman (an elegy for Virginia Woolf) by Julie Cooper-Fratrik


sea. waves. woman.
(a tritina)

At the edge of the water, someone waves,
mirrors the movement of the sea.
From the shore is heard the laughter of a woman

who gazes at the susurrant sea.
The sea continues its rocking. The woman
imagines lying down in waves.

How easy for a woman
to ease her little weight into the waves
while, all around her, gulls float calmly on the dark sea.

The sea enfolds a woman in its waves.[1]




A sight, an emotion, creates this wave in the mind, long before it makes words to fit it … and then, as it breaks and tumbles in the mind: waves, The Waves, woman: their form, their words, their life….



The sun had not yet risen.

When she was a girl (she who became a mostly-silent woman), my mother almost drowned in the waves off the coast of Atlantic City, NJ.     When I was a girl, in a creek in Wycombe, PA, I rose to the surface, from the green depths, under a large raft whose edge I could not find….

Let me pull myself out of these waters. But they heap themselves on me; they sweep me between their great shoulders; I am turned; I am tumbled….

The terrible beauty of waves, the relentless force of water. Waves, water: since the age of eight, when I first saw the ocean, I have been frightened and mesmerized by both. And I ask, as Gaston Bachelard does in Water and Dreams:[2] what is the extraordinary power, the almost ineluctable pull of water? It is, he insists, “a type of destiny”:“A being dedicated to water [a being whose first memory is of the sounds of waves] is a being in flux. [She] dies every minute; something of [her] substance is constantly falling away.”[3] She “disappears into deep water.”[4]

The sun rose higher.

“Waves are undulating forms that move along the surface of the sea”[5]

                            “…something travelled across the sea to the shore. …I think one could say it was a shape, a pattern of outline and water motion. … I shall use the word ‘wave’ to mean the shape the pattern.”[6]

The sun rose.

“Tides are the longest waves oceanographers commonly deal with, having a period of forty-three-thousand seconds (twelve hours and twenty-five minutes) and a wave length of half the circumference of the earth.”[7]

(It calls to us, opens its arms wide to us: water,tidal rivers, the sea

                …the sea that waits for the river, that waits for us, that has waited always…)

Beneath it is all dark, it is all spreading. It is unfathomably deep….

“During spring tides, which have nothing to do with the spring season but occur about every two weeks, the water level rises higher and falls lower than usual. This large range of tide lasts two or three days…. …These are the neap tides….”[8]

The sun, risen… bared its face and looked straight over the water.

The waves fell, withdrew and fell again, like the thud of a great beast stamping.

                    “…an endless train of perfect waves, all exactly alike, moved across an ocean of infinite breadth and depth.”[9]

“Imagine that a [body] is held half immersed in the water and then is released. As it sinks, waves will spread out from it as circles.”[10]

The sun no longer stood in the middle of the sky.

“…consider how waves spread out from some sudden brief central disturbance in the water…. I shall suppose that waves spread out in circular fashion for each small disturbance….”[11]

“It is I who stir up the sea.”[12]

“The effects [of a wave] spread to a great distance, somewhat as ripples spread outward from a stone thrown into water.”[13]

“We usually call these short waves ‘ripples.’ …The shorter ripples are, the faster they move. This is quite the opposite of what happens with ordinary sea waves; there the shorter ones travel more slowly.”[14]

The sun had now sunk lower in the sky.

The whole floor of the waves was blue and white, rippling and crisp, though now and again, a broad purple mark appeared like a bruise.

The sun was sinking.

The water is broken by silver, by quivering little fish.Now leaping, now lashing,they are laid upon the shore.

Life tumbles its catch upon the grass.

“It will always be so.”[15]

Now the sun had sunk.

The waves broke on the shore.

The Waves

There was a woman
summoned by the sea…

                (water is life,

…the first memory…
it is of having the waves
one, two,
one, two…

from the beginning
acoming, a going/
a moving toward,
a flowing away/

                                ebb, ebb
                                neap, neap

the sea spread out,
blue, with purple stains
on it.

      The first memory
is of lying half asleep, half
awake, in bed.

        …in the nursery in St. Ives…

of feeling the purest ecstasy
I can conceive.
…the waves and the acorn on the blind…

(The little wooden acorn swaying on the blind.)

from Widdleton
to Waddleton…
from Kensington
to Talland House…
St. Ives
to Bloomsbury
to Hogarth House
to Monk’s House

                                                that here once someone had lived;
there had been a house….

There is a mystery about it all.

(the little, little life)

I walk in the afternoon down to the river.

(From Lewes, in Sussex, the Ouse is a tidal river; it flows into the sea.)

I will sit by the river’s trembling edge…

                                    (The Ouse is “an unlovely river between Rodmell and the bridge at Southease.”)[16]

(Woman, take your ease.)

I will drop a stone in and see bubbles rise from the depths of the sea.

(At the edge of the meadows, there is a lovely walking path, from Rodmell to Lewes, a walking path along the River Ouse.)

                                      ((On the hill the kissing gate swings on its
sorrowful hinges
to and fro,
to and fro.
From a distance, someone

                                              “In a few minutes, she returned to the house, put on her coat, took her walking-stick and went quickly up the garden to the top gate.”[17]

                I lean my little weight against my walking stick, curtsy toward the house.

If anyone could have saved me it would have been you,


I ride rough waters and shall sink with no one to save me.

(The lightest rocks are granite.)

                                            I put my feet onto the ground
                              I step
into the water….

(I am the stone that carried her down: that lined her pocket’s dark, her dark progression…her hand tightened suddenly round me…)

But now the circle breaks….
Now passions that lay in wait down there in the dark weeds which grow at the bottom rise and pound us with their dark waves.

              A film of water
drawn over my eyes
                            like a wave….

one, two, rise and crash
and the depths
are only water
after all.

(The stone is sunk;
the moment is over.)

“And the white body of the drowned will rise up tomorrow pink in the gentle lapping of the morning. There will drift back the sound of silvery bells. What a kind sea….”[18]

            (what a kind sea)

Along the river bottom,
minnows feel.

It was done;
                      It was finished.


The waves broke on the shore


a stone moving down-
ward, hush,
                        hush;   tiny
ripples circling there,
minnows gasping for air.
a woman whispers along       the shore …

life emerges heaving its dark crest from the sea

                        (woman: (a)

putting my feet onto
the ground I step

into my life…at the end
of the lane, at the end
of time
                            (it is

a white house blazed
in the sun
(a pure transparency)
in the sun
someone was born there

                        (Armeria was
                              born there)

someone had lived there/a
woman/she waved
                              to ships/
in the distance/to ships           in the dark-thrift sea/
      the sea returned/returns
      her waves/
                      its waves.

        (someone remembers)

Armeria waves on the hill.

In the pasture, the bull’s blue breath….

        remember I
little, little life:

the little house on the hill; the harebells blooming there; the lighthouse beams in the

        the gulls’ startled cry.

“Somebody somewhere thinks of this as home.”[19]


(The snowdrops bloomed on February 10th this year.)

                  a woman is
                              an undulating
form who moves along
the surface of her life/she dips
and sways/she rises
she falls
                  in the pasture
the tiny harebell draws its  petals








now the day is over:

in the woods the trees
are heaving. wings
are folding.
                                    in its nest
the world is settling,

       (in the meadow the kissing
      gate swings to and fro.)

                  …in the pasture
              the bull’s blue breath.

Should this be the end of the story? A kind of sigh? A last ripple of the wave?

It is over, we are ended.

The waves[break] on the shore.




Six Characters in Search of an Absence, a Center

1st character (Bernard)

the son of a gentleman
from Edinburgh
rolls his bread into pellets
is always late
has a biographer

I see a ring . . . hanging above me.

Against you I will fling myself, unvanquished and unyielding, O Death!

2nd character (Susan)

father is a clergyman
she hates, she loves
a farmer’s wife
listens to her children’s breathing
is loved by Bernard

I see a slab of pale yellow, spreading away until it meets a purple stripe.

Still I gape, like a young bird, unsatisfied, for something that has escaped me.

3rd character (Rhoda)

has no father
is the youngest
rocks her ships in the basin
fears embraces
leaps to her death

I hear a sound, cheep, chirp; cheep, chirp; going up and down.

Yet they have only to speak, and their first words, with the remembered tone and the
perpetual deviation from what one expects and their hands moving and making a thousand
past days rise again in the darkness, shake my purpose.

4th character (Neville)

a poet
son of a gentleman
delicate; fastidious;
will become famous
loves only Percival

I see a globe, hanging down in a drop against the enormous flanks of some hill.
But now we are worn out.

5th character (Jinny)

lives with her mother in London
kisses Louis at school
opens and shuts her body at will
leaps and dances
will live to be 50 or 60

I see a crimson tassel, twisted with gold threads.

After our fire, there is nothing left to put in lockets.

6th character (Louis)
from Australia
ashamed of his accent
his father a banker in Brisbane
pale and neat; likes order
signs and signs and signs his name

I hear something stamping.

Lord help us to act our parts as we greet them returning—Susan and Bernard, Neville and




Waiting for Percival

…he is like a stone fallen into a pond round which minnows swarm. Like minnows, we who
had been shooting this way, that way, all shot round him when he came.

The Waves

1. Bernard: to Percival

I want to map desire. I want to write his book, a book of pages made of Percival. Already, it
is almost real:
                            From now on, all that I gather, every wait and waiting, every blaze and song will have the added presence (and absence), the added weight (and weightlessness) of him.

Everything here is possible there. Everything there no longer exists in a world in which his
book is not imagined. Here in the room he appears. Here in the room he arrives.

2. Susan: to Percival

Because the wing contains all lifting, all uplifting, it shall be a symbol: as when, after
finishing my chores, I walk from barn to house at twilight; the wind sweeps over the
ploughed fields, and certain birds appear, flying on the arc of darkness.
                                                                                                                        Between the upward
and the downward motion of their beating wings and hearts, shadows move about me. Small
sounds arise, barely audible: almost a name for something, someone: almost a name for you.

3. Rhoda: to Percival

There is the cry at twilight, there the break in the hedge: the wedge of darkness, the purple
cloak. I don’t exist: I have no body, no face: behind the glass, I see myself through others.
All is shattered, but for him, I have picked a penny bunch of violets. They wither in my hand.
What then can I touch?
What brick, what stone?

4) Neville: to Percival

This is the place to which he is coming…the table at which he will sit. Always, I have clung
to his image as I cling to the outsides of words. Always, he has spurned me: I am weak, and
he is dead: Percival, who held us all together. Always, there will be others: here in the room with the folds of the curtains aflame by the fire.
                                                                                  Always, they are not he.

5) Jinny: to Percival

I open and shut my body. Others gather about me; I am the moth around which they flicker
and swarm: ‘Come,’ I say, ‘come.’ It may be a stranger before me; it may be Louis or
Neville. Who will visit tonight? I tremble, I quiver, I fear the darkness.

(Percival is dead.)

My dress billows about me in the evening, and my body, as I wait. ‘Come,’ I say, ‘come.’
This is my calling. This is my world.”

6) Louis: to Percival

I am opulent. I am gaunt. I am an average clerk. I sit at the desk and sign and sign my name.
My father was a banker In Brisbane. On the wall are maps of our ships at sea. (Rhoda and
Percival are gone.) But evening approaches, and we are only men and women after all.




The River Ouse

The speaker of this poem doesn’t exist, except as I invent an eye for the I, a figure thin and
charged as lightning forks who lingers by the river’s edge near Lewes. She leans her little
weight against her walking-stick: a woman drawn like water to the water.
                                                                                                                            To recall the end of
Life from you, persona, just persona, a rock into the pocket dropped, a curtsy to the
lighthouse in the distance; to Keats just rounding Hampstead Heath, half in love with easeful
: and to your husband leaning now above the pages in the sitting-room. His fingers’
weary bones trace startled rings around your words.

                                                                                          It is only a step or two from here to
there, across the errant threshold, across the water meadows to the river. . . .


I am the stone that carried her down, that lined her pocket’s dark, her dark progression. She
leaned her little weight against her walking stick, turned toward the house. Her husband was
an absence.
                         Curlews flew in heavy circles: an ordinary day. She fingered me carefully at first,
turning me over and over like an unanswered question against her palm, all the while walking
slowly and farther into the water.
                                                            After such gentleness, how was it that her hand turned cold
and tightened suddenly round me, extinguishing our breath?

That Day

After awhile, Virginia put down the duster and slipped away.
James King
Virginia Woolf

After the weight of stones disturbs the river’s calm, circles of water spread outward, as small
as minnows gasping for air. In town, the tower clock strikes one: its circles of sound surround
the water meadows, the lowing of cattle, plaintive and pure as rain.

There would the dead leaf fall,
when the leaves fall,
in the water.

From the hedge, a redstart calls, rhododendrons shiver. A man lays down his pruning shears;
his feet move imperceptibly toward the house. Along the river bottom, minnows feed.

Leonards’ Lament

A man without a self, I said, when I went out to look for her by the northern edge of the
garden, the river moaning softly in the distance: a heavy body leaning on a gate.
Last week, we walked the water meadows arm in arm: a gray spring day, but hope was in the
Lightness of her step. We lingered by the river’s trembling edge, her hand in mine.

I cup my hands around my mouth: I call, I call. But she has walked away. A man without a
wife, I said: a paltry thing.

The waves [break] on the shore….

Against you I will fling myself, unvanquished and unyielding, O Death!



[1] Making Our Own Light: An Anthology, The Bucks County Poet Laureate Program, 2012.

[2] Water and Dreams: An Essay on the Imagination of Matter. 1942. Trans. by Edith R. Farrelll (Dallas, TX: The Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture, 1983), 6.

[3] Bachelard, 6.

[4] Bachelard, 12.

[5] Willard Bascom, Waves and Beaches: the dynamics of the ocean surface (Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, 1964), 3.

[6] N. F. Barber, Water Waves (London & Winchester: Wykeham Publications, 1969), 3.

[7] Bascom, 82-83.

[8] Bascom, 87-88.

[9] Bascom, 29.

[10] Barber, 119.

[11] Barber, 119.

[12] Bachelard, 168.

[13] Barber, 17.

[14] Barber, 75.

[15] Bascom, 257.

[16] Victoria Glendenning, Leonard Woolf: A Biography (New York: Free Press, 2006), 326.

[17] Glendenning,

[18] Bachelard, 168.

[19] Derek Mahon, “A Garage in County Cork,” Contemporary Irish Poetry. Eds. Peter Fallon & Derek Mahon (London: Penguin Books, 1990), 240.



Julie Cooper Fratrik has her MFA from Goddard/Vermont College; published in, among others, The Louisville Review, RHINO, Slant, The Dickenson Review, Quarter After Eight, American Poetry Review, Ekphrasis. Former Academic Fellow at Psycoanalytic Center of Philadelphia; winner of Acheivement Grant in Poetry from Leeway Foundation in Philadelphia. Live with my partner, a visual artist, in southeastern PA.