"Watching for Dolphins" is a poem by contemporary English poet David Constantine, published in his 1983 collection of the same name. The poem details the experience of a group of passengers watching for wild dolphins aboard a ship bound for Piraeus, Greece. Constantine uses this premise to explore themes of isolation and connection, the role of imagination in ordinary life, and the desire for intense, meaningful encounters with the natural world. The passengers' desire to see dolphins eventually comes to symbolize their longing for spiritual epiphany, connectedness, and a sense of profound, communal purpose.
In the summer ...
... watch for dolphins.
One saw them ...
... if anyone would.
Day after day ...
... likeness of dolphins.
Were gulls a ...
... implored the sea.
All, unaccustomed, wanted ...
... gong and drum.
We could not ...
... like satyrs, oh
We should have ...
... the deep parts.
But soon ...
... in the city.
Select any word below to get its definition in the context of the poem. The words are listed in the order in which they appear in the poem.
The Poem Out Loud — A recording of David Constantine reading "Watching for Dolphins."
Romanticism — A brief guide to Romantic poetry.
David Constantine's Biography — Info regarding the poet's life and contribution to literature, including bibliography and awards.
More of Constantine's Poems — More info on David Constantine, including recordings of some of his other poems.
An Interview — Joseph Hutchison interviews David Constantine for Cerise Press.
Another Interview! — Rupert Dastur interviews David Constantine for Word Factory.
1In the summer months on every crossing to Piraeus
2One noticed that certain passengers soon rose
3From seats in the packed saloon and with serious
4Looks and no acknowledgement of a common purpose
5Passed forward through the small door into the bows
6To watch for dolphins. One saw them lose
7Every other wish. Even the lovers
8Turned their desires on the sea, and a fat man
9Hung with equipment to photograph the occasion
10Stared like a saint, through sad bi-focals; others,
11Hopeless themselves, looked to the children for they
12Would see dolphins if anyone would. Day after day
13Or on their last opportunity all gazed
14Undecided whether a flat calm were favourable
15Or a sea the sun and the wind between them raised
16To a likeness of dolphins. Were gulls a sign, that fell
17Screeching from the sky or over an unremarkable place
18Sat in a silent school? Every face
19After its character implored the sea.
20All, unaccustomed, wanted epiphany,
21Praying the sky would clang and the abused Aegean
22Reverberate with cymbal, gong and drum.
23We could not imagine more prayer, and had they then
24On the waves, on the climax of our longing come
25Smiling, snub-nosed, domed like satyrs, oh
26We should have laughed and lifted the children up
27Stranger to stranger, pointing how with a leap
28They left their element, three or four times, centred
29On grace, and heavily and warm re-entered,
30Looping the keel. We should have felt them go
31Further and further into the deep parts. But soon
32We were among the great tankers, under their chains
33In black water. We had not seen the dolphins
34But woke, blinking. Eyes cast down
35With no admission of disappointment the company
36Dispersed and prepared to land in the city.