A sea-change refers to a gradual transformation process wherein the form is retained but the substance is changed. It is a slow and gradual process. Fossilization is a good example. As the organic material decays away it is replaced gradually by inert silicates which take on the original form. As a result petrified wood looks remarkably like wood, complete with cell structures, but made of stone instead of carbonaceous matter.
In character terms a sea-change might represent the transformation of a person in response to events. Walter White in Breaking Bad comes to mind (don’t worry, I won’t spoil it). His is a transformation from an ethical and impotent person to an amoral mover and shaker. In fiction we usually see a sea change operate in the opposite way, as the flawed and weak character is transformed by events into a redeemed and sympathetic hero. Valmont in Les Liaisons Dangereuses, Jack Sommersby in the eponymous film or Christina Applegate’s character in Samantha Who?
A U-turn is a turn by a vehicle which completely reverses the direction of travel. In politics in Britain & Ireland the term is used to refer to a reversal of a previous position. In the USA it is called a Flip Flop, and in the antipodes it is called a backflip. Whatever you call it the connotation is negative. Politicians hate to be caught making a u-turn on policy to save a vote, a seat or an election, but it happens all the time.
So in Ireland the politicians have taken a leaf out of Shakespeare and have replaced the U-turn with the Sea-change. Being cynical I guess if it is a U or a C that you inscribe you have reversed your direction in either case. The intention amongst politicians is to dress up a position change as a positive thing. But the metaphor is a nonsense. The changes tend to happen in a very short time frame, so they are u-turns, not sea changes. A political sea change might be a gradual emphasis shift from job creation to environmental improvement. As a population matures the pressures on education systems ease and the pressures on health systems increase. These kind of societal evolutions are sea-change issues for politicians through their career. If you support asylum seekers this week and you cut funding for asylum seekers next week, that is a u-turn.
Ariel’s Song (from The Tempest) by William Shakespeare
Come unto these yellow sands,
And then take hands:
Curtsied when you have, and kiss’d
The wild waves whist,
Foot it featly here and there;
And, sweet sprites, the burthen bear.
The watch-dogs bark.
Hark, hark! I hear
The strain of strutting chanticleer
Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell:
Hark! now I hear them—Ding-dong, bell.
Full Fathom Five: by Sylvia Plath
Old man, you surface seldom.
Then you come in with the tide’s coming
When seas wash cold, foam-
Capped: white hair, white beard, far-flung,
A dragnet, rising, falling, as waves
Crest and trough. Miles long
Extend the radial sheaves
Of your spread hair, in which wrinkling skeins
Knotted, caught, survives
The old myth of orgins
Unimaginable. You float near
As kneeled ice-mountains
Of the north, to be steered clear
Of, not fathomed. All obscurity
Starts with a danger:
Your dangers are many. I
Cannot look much but your form suffers
Some strange injury
And seems to die: so vapors
Ravel to clearness on the dawn sea.
The muddy rumors
Of your burial move me
To half-believe: your reappearance
Proves rumors shallow,
For the archaic trenched lines
Of your grained face shed time in runnels:
Ages beat like rains
On the unbeaten channels
Of the ocean. Such sage humor and
Durance are whirlpools
To make away with the ground-
Work of the earth and the sky’s ridgepole.
Waist down, you may wind
One labyrinthine tangle
To root deep among knuckles, shinbones,
Below shoulders not once
Seen by any man who kept his head,
You defy questions;
You defy godhood.
I walk dry on your kingdom’s border
Exiled to no good.
Your shelled bed I remember.
Father, this thick air is murderous.
I would breathe water.