Is this voyage a matter of being turned out of the house – from houses built on occupied land, or from houses that once stood on the streets of a city now completely swept away by a hurricane?
“How many times during the voyage/ do we want to go home?” Sharron Hass asks in the opening line of her poem, whose title is nearly the same sentence, except that the title does not mention the voyage and does not end with a question mark. The difference between the title and the opening line of the first stanza is not accidental, and it immediately makes one wonder about the nature of the voyage: is this a pleasure cruise among distant and exotic isles; or one whose purpose is the study of remote tribes, extinct cultures or rare plants; or is it a matter of being turned out of the house – from houses built on occupied land, or from houses that once stood on the streets of a city now completely swept away by a hurricane?
Because the puzzle of the journey arises naturally at the start, the poet hurries to describe the journey: the way and the goal are unknown, but the hour in which ones sets out on the way (“the gates of night”), and the vehicle that serves the passengers (“a ship. . . / strewn with light and pearls”) are soon made known. Sharron Hass delineates, with a festival of words formulating the joy of departure very well, the sadness of a promise that cannot be fulfilled and the disquiet of the soul which feels the need to depart again and again.
The need to set out on one’s way and to return home are connected somehow, like the need to give and the need to take. Love is often forced to take its distance from the object of love in order to make life acceptable, and to avoid smothering closeness. But genuine love may also be unconditional, in which case there are only subjects and no objects. This love is “something mighty that has no place or time”, but its reality is not necessarily utopian.
The final stanza begins exactly as the opening one, except that what was a question at the beginning, perhaps a rhetorical question, has meanwhile hardened into a certainty. The theoretical longing for home becomes a hard fact deeply felt by the travelers during the voyage. The problem of wanting to leave and wanting to return are in any case issues for those who are privileged: the one at home desires to leave, the one outside, to enter. The poor cannot leave, for anyway they are always outside, and entering is from their point of view a moot point, for they haven’t whereto. Nonetheless, the desire for love, for a permanent home, and a break in routine, is the dream of rich and poor alike. “There must be a dream, for the strength to live”, according to Finnish poet Sirkka Turka. But in order to have the strength to live, a dream alone does not suffice.