The most popular visual feature of Halibut Point State Park is the Overlook in its northeastern corner. Standing above a 50’+ granite grout pile over the rocky shore, the Overlook is the site of several weddings a year and even more marriage proposals. Perhaps that’s why Outdoor Recreation has named Halibut Point one of the top ten romantic spots in America. From the Overlook, one can see Ipswich Bay, the mouth of the Merrimac River, the miles of sandy shore at Salisbury Beach Reservation, the Isle of Shoals in New Hampshire, Mt. Agamenticus and Boon Island in Maine, and even more on the right day.
When you stand at the tip of the Overlook at Halibut Point, you are on the closest spot in the continental United States to the continent of Europe – (that’s continent-to-continent) – the next stop is Cape Finisterre, Spain.
Staring down from the Overlook, the significant mountain of granite beneath you (known in quarry slang as a “grout pile”) represents the unused remants of the long abandoned Sandy Bay Breakwater project. As far back as 1830 there was advocacy to make Rockport a national harbor of refuge, one reason being the lack of a large harbor between Portland and Boston. It was over fifty years later before the idea took steps toward rock-solid reality, finally commencing in 1885. Yet by thirty years later and after nearly two million tons of cut stone, from Babson Farm Quarry and other Rockport quarries, was placed onto sloops and scows and set beneath almost a thousand acres of sea bottom, the project remained barely one-quarter complete. Perpetually behind schedule and over budget, the federal government declined to continue financing the project, leaving what was intended as a refuge of safety to become the manmade hazard many see it as even today. From the top of the Overlook you can see the unfinished breakwater as the long line of stone offshore to the far right. You can find a detailed story about the early history of the Sandy Bay Breakwater in this 19th Century archival issue of Harper’s Bazaar.
After gazing to the far right at the Sandy Bay Breakwater, gently swing your eyes slightly left at the gull-bleached mound warting up from the sea: It’s the Dry Salvages – a bare knuckle of granite with a name controversy too convoluted to detail in a few words, this slab above the spit is best known as the title of the third segment of T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets. Eliot, born in Missouri, spent many summers of his youth on Cape Ann and The Dry Salvages is the only one of Eliot’s Four Quartets with an American setting.
(The Dry Salvages—presumably les trois sauvages—is a small group of rocks, with a beacon, off the N.E. coast of Cape Ann, Massachusetts. Salvages is pronounced to rhyme with assuages. Groaner: a whistling buoy.)
That’s how Eliot described them in this work. Four Quartets, each one written between a span of years, was published in 1943 and many view it as Eliot’s masterpiece, even going so far as to say it’s the work most responsible for his 1948 Nobel Prize award. The work draws upon Eliot’s lifelong reflections upon symbolism, philosophy, mysticism and Christianity.
“I do not know much about gods;” …
is the famous beginning to The Dry Salvages. Eliot starts by writing about the river but soon alters focus:
“The sea is the land’s edge also, the granite
Into which it reaches, the beaches where it tosses
Its hints of earlier and other creation:
The starfish, the horseshoe crab, the whale’s backbone;
The pools where it offers to our curiosity
The more delicate algae and the sea anemone.
It tosses up our losses, the torn seine,
The shattered lobsterpot, the broken oar
And the gear of foreign dead men. The sea has many voices,
Many gods and many voices.”
It’s quite an experience, bringing a copy of the text out to the Overlook and reading it while pondering the Salvages and the stoney shore below. Eliot, some say, is “out of favor” today, but that’s hard to truly believe – type in T.S. Eliot on Google and you’ll come up with nearly two million hits! Granted, Eliot as a writer does make you “do your homework,” but he’s well worth it. For more about T.S. Eliot, Wikipedia’s article about him is a good information source, as is this one about Four Quartets. For the entire text of The Dry Salvages, go here.