Wave Symbolism

Wave Symbolism

Storytellers have long utilised the symbolism of dreams, which apply equally when we’re awake.

Around the world, we all have a similar visceral reaction to forests, the colour red, skulls… In fiction these universal symbols indeed say something deeper about our collective anxieties and fixations. Same goes for waves.

Waves can emulate the turbulence of human emotion, from extreme happiness to dark lows.

Waves also symbolise adventure.

The Perilous Voyages of Sinbad the Sailor illustration by Caroline Sharpe 1974

What is the universal symbol of climate change? I can tell you already. It’s waves. I listened to an interview with an Australian climate change scientist who has recently decided to open up about her climate crisis anxiety. Other climate change scientists have thanked her for her honesty. Sounds like they’re all having these dreams. Dreams about massive waves crashing onto shore. In some dreams this particular scientist is sucked in by the wave; in others she’s trying to run away. 

This imagery is echoed in a British cartoon that came through my feed last month: three waves in increasing order of magnitude, the smallest labeled ‘Pandemic’, the next labeled ‘Brexit’, the biggest labeled ‘Climate Change’.

If you haven’t joined us already, when you start having nightmares about waves, then you’ll know you’re viscerally feeling our climate crisis.

Mists and Magic chosen and edited by Dorothy Edwards illustrated by Jill Bennett
Frederick Judd Waugh (American artist) 1861-1940
‘The Wave,’ (1944) Victor Pasmore
By Arthur Rackham (1867-1939)–Ill. f. Undine, Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué (1909)
Danaë and the Infant Perseus from 1922 for the book A Wonder Book for Girls and Boys by Arthur Rackham
Danaë and the Infant Perseus from 1922 for the book A Wonder Book for Girls and Boys by Arthur Rackham
Ladies Home Journal Magazine – August 1920
Utterly Dark and the Face of the Deep
ひとり 谷川俊太郎 三輪滋 1982
Victor J. Bertoglio (1911- 1974) 1949 illustration for an edition of 'South' by Ernest Shackleton boat
Victor J. Bertoglio (1911- 1974) 1949 illustration for an edition of ‘South’ by Ernest Shackleton
for poem Little Tee Wee by John Heard in Sea Stories 2007
Dream boats and other stories 1920 by Dugald Stewart Walker
Dream boats and other stories 1920 by Dugald Stewart Walker
Dream boats and other stories 1920 by Dugald Stewart Walker
Dream boats and other stories 1920 by Dugald Stewart Walker
Dream boats and other stories 1920 by Dugald Stewart Walker
Ivan Bilibin (1876 - 1942) 1937 illustration for The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Andersen
Ivan Bilibin (1876 – 1942) 1937 illustration for The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Andersen
John Patience - The Little Mermaid
John Patience – The Little Mermaid
FEODORA (1947) Jan Goeting
FEODORA (1947) Jan Goeting
Tanglewood Tales, Greek mythology for kids, 1921 illustrated by Virginia Frances Sterrett
Tanglewood Tales, Greek mythology for kids, 1921 illustrated by Virginia Frances Sterrett
Easy Answers to Hard Questions pictures by Susan Perl text by Susanne Kirtland (1968) where do waves come from
Easy Answers to Hard Questions pictures by Susan Perl text by Susanne Kirtland (1968) where do waves come from
Art Lover (Tired Museum Feet), Stevan Dohanos, 1956
Art Lover (Tired Museum Feet), Stevan Dohanos, 1956
William Bouguereau - The Wave 1896
William Bouguereau – The Wave 1896
Janusz Stanny - The Tales of Hans Christian Andersen
Janusz Stanny – The Tales of Hans Christian Andersen
Hillary Knight's illustrations for 'Where's Wallace' 1964
Hillary Knight’s illustrations for ‘Where’s Wallace’ 1964
Shimizu Yūko  清水裕子, Japanese illustrator wave
Shimizu Yūko 清水裕子, Japanese illustrator
Dream boats and other stories 1920 by Dugald Stewart Walker
Dream boats and other stories 1920 by Dugald Stewart Walker
Europa and the Bull, American Illustrator Virginia Frances Sterrett (1900-1931)
Europa and the Bull, American Illustrator Virginia Frances Sterrett (1900-1931)
Nikifor Rashchektayev – The Tale of the Fisherman and the Fish
JS Bach (Various) – Leonid Kogan with the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Otto Ackermann art by John Copeland
Sailing ship on raging waves, anonymous, after Pieter Bruegel (I), 1600 - 1625
Sailing ship on raging waves, anonymous, after Pieter Bruegel (I), 1600 – 1625
Winslow Homer - The Life-Line waves
Winslow Homer – The Life-Line

Below: Alexander Pushkin’s Tale of Tsar Saltan illustrated by Ivan Bilibin

NACHTMERRIE OVER NEDERLAND (1945) L.J. Jordan the tidal wave
NACHTMERRIE OVER NEDERLAND (1945) L.J. Jordan the tidal wave
LADY FILMY FERN or The Voyage of the Window Box (early 1930s and 1980) Edward Bawden waves
LADY FILMY FERN or The Voyage of the Window Box (early 1930s and 1980) Edward Bawden waves
Illustration from In Search of the Castaways by Jules Verne, 1873 by Edouard Riou wave
Webster Murray (ca1900-1957) 'Arctic Antics' Illustration for the London Illustrated News, 1928, mermaids wave
Webster Murray (ca1900-1957) ‘Arctic Antics’ Illustration for the London Illustrated News, 1928, mermaids wave
Patrick von Kalckreuth (1898 - 1970) The North Sea, 1955 waves
Patrick von Kalckreuth (1898 – 1970) The North Sea, 1955

The Biblical scene of the parting of the sea is almost a story which suggests the taming of the wave: the ultimate in supernatural prowess. The illustration below could also be of two tsunamis, but no, the waves are (presumably) static.

Arnold Friberg 10 Commandments sea

SEE ALSO

The tsunami has swept everything away—including Kenta’s most prized possession, his soccer ball. When tragedy strikes Kenta’s small village in Japan, he does all he can to hang on to the things that matter to him most. But amidst the chaos of an emergency evacuation brought on by the tsunami, Kenta and his family must quickly leave their home, taking with them only the barest necessities. Climbing to safer ground, Kenta watches helplessly as his prized soccer ball goes bouncing down a hill and gets swept away by the waves, never to be seen again… that is until it washes up on a beach on the other side of the world, into the hands of a child who takes it upon himself to return the ball to its rightful owner. In this evocative picture book, Ruth Ohi’s glowing art transports the reader to Japan with gentle images that offer reassurance amidst the background of an environmental catastrophe. Inspired by true stories of personal items being washed ashore thousands of miles away after the tsunami of 2011, Kenta and the Big Wave is about the strength of the human spirit and the power of Mother Nature. Including an afterword explaining tsunamis to young readers.

Deep Impact 1988

Ocean symbolism

Lemon girl young adult novella

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Header illustration: 1917, illustrator unknown to me