The land may vary more; But wherever the truth may be--
In these lines, we're finally getting down to it. We've watched a bunch of people staring out at a ship at sea, and we've watched a lone gull standing on the shore. Now we can try to figure out why.
Lines 9-10 tell us that the land varies a lot, compared to the sea. Which, you know, true. After all, there are all different types of landscapes, plus hills and valleys and mountains and trees and so on. But the sea? Well, that's pretty much water water everywhere.
But then things get a little weird. The speaker dumps a Big Idea right in our laps: the truth. And "wherever [it] may be" apparently has something to do with the land and the sea.
Let's break this down a bit. When we think of truth, we think of things that are steady, unchanging. Things that don't "vary."
So maybe the speaker is suggesting that we seek truth by looking at things like the sea, which "vary" less than the land.
But. And this is a big "but": there's literally a "but" at the beginning of line 10. Which means maybe we've been barking up the wrong truth tree by looking at the sea.
To be honest, we here at Shmoop think we're wading knee deep into the waters of ambiguity here, so before we jump to conclusions, let's jump to the end of the poem…
The water comes ashore, And the people look at the sea.
Lines 11-12 blend the land and the sea even more than lines 9-10 did.
We have to remember that these lines are actually enjambed with the lines above. So really this should read, "But wherever the truth may be / The water comes ashore / And the people look at the sea."
Hmm. That's interesting. It sounds like Truth-with-a-capital-T has something to do with the water and shore coming together.
Which makes a certain amount of sense. Maybe these people are looking for truth in the sea, but in order to do so, they've got to have their feet planted firmly on the sand.
Notice how in the first stanza, the speaker made the land and sea appear as two very different things, with the people "turning their back on the land." But here in the third stanza, we're seeing a bit more balance between land and sea, continuing the themes we saw towards the end of the second stanza.
Perhaps then the speaker is encouraging us to imagine "truth seeking" in a way that's also balanced. Maybe looking "one way" and looking "all day" isn't the best way to find that elusive truth.
Maybe the land and sea really aren't all that different, but we tend to fixate on the sea because it appears to look more constant, unchanging (and therefore more truthful, supposedly) on the surface. But that doesn't necessarily mean that the sea contains anymore truth than the land.
Instead, with the water coming ashore, we're meant to consider truth as something that can be found on land as well, not just out in the sea. After all, line 11 tells us that the water comes "ashore." And if the water is the source for all those mysterious truths, perhaps the truth is closer than we may think. Hey, maybe it's right beneath our feet.
Alternatively, maybe the speaker is pointing out that we're no more likely to find truth on land than we are in the sea.
Remember—there's a lot of ambiguity going on here, so we're going to have to get comfortable with multiple possible interpretations.
And yet, where are the people always looking? You guessed it, "the sea." So there's definitely a bit of folly in the fact that while the people are looking for the truth "out there," the speaker is pointing out that the truth might be right in front of our nose, or on land in this case.