Friday poem: Out of the Deep

A wild, powerful poem about the space and vigour of the sea. Just to remind you how stormy it can be, while we’re enjoying the calm in the midst of summer!

Out of the Deep – Charles Guérin (translated by Wilfrid Thorley)

At the hour when the stars from the eastern spaces are peering,
I stood on the cliffs that look on the sea, and strode
Alone and laughing with pride in the squall’s careering
To feel my blood leap up at the tempest’s goad.

At the base of the cliffs there was thunder of waves defeated;
I measured the spaces of western sky whereon
A sunbeam flamed farewell as the sun retreated
And over the waters its waning glory shone.

I leant by a rocky wall smooth-hewn and salted
By the immemorial sprays of the endless tide,
Like a cross on the brink of a lonely pit, exalted
I clasped all space as I held my arms out wide.

And my full heart beat with the heart of the world’s wide bosom,
The sea’s salt out of the sea my strong veins drew;
I felt my body within me grow quick and blossom
With seed of stars that the winnowing night let through.

I wanted to moan more loud than the ocean thunders,
To breathe out my being in air like the tempest wrack;
And, death o’er-leapt, feel the sacred ardour that sunders
The soul from self that again unto God goes back.

Friday poem: The Tarry Buccaneer

Oh we love pirates! More from John Masefield.

The Tarry Buccaneer – John Masefield

I’m going to be a pirate with a bright brass pivot-gun,
And an island in the Spanish Main beyond the setting sun,
And a silver flagon full of red wine to drink when work is done,
Like a fine old salt-sea scavenger, like a tarry Buccaneer.

With a sandy creek to careen in, and a pig-tailed Spanish mate,
And under my main-hatches a sparkling merry freight
Of doubloons and double moidores and pieces of eight,
Like a fine old salt-sea scavenger, like a tarry Buccaneer.

With a taste for Spanish wine-shops and for spending my doubloons,
And a crew of swart mulattoes and black-eyed octoroons,
And a thoughtful way with mutineers of making them maroons,
Like a fine old salt-sea scavenger, like a tarry Buccaneer.

With a sash of crimson velvet and a diamond-hiked sword,
And a silver whistle about my neck secured to a golden cord,
And a habit of taking captives and walking them along a board,
Like a fine old salt-sea scavenger, like a tarry Buccaneer.

With a spy-glass tucked beneath my arm and a cocked hat cocked askew,
And a long low rakish schooner a-cutting of the waves in two,
And a flag of skull and cross-bones the wickedest that ever flew,
Like a fine old salt-sea scavenger, like a tarry Buccaneer.

Friday poem: A Ballad of John Silver

Arrr! Me hearties! Here be a pirate poem this fine Friday! Some more John Masefield to tickle your fancy.

A Ballad of John Silver – John Masefield

We were schooner-rigged and rakish,
with a long and lissome hull,
And we flew the pretty colours of the crossbones and the skull;
We’d a big black Jolly Roger flapping grimly at the fore,
And we sailed the Spanish Water in the happy days of yore.

We’d a long brass gun amidships, like a well-conducted ship,
We had each a brace of pistols and a cutlass at the hip;
It’s a point which tells against us, and a fact to be deplored,
But we chased the goodly merchant-men and laid their ships aboard.

Then the dead men fouled the scuppers and the wounded filled the chains,
And the paint-work all was spatter dashed with other peoples brains,
She was boarded, she was looted, she was scuttled till she sank.
And the pale survivors left us by the medium of the plank.

O! then it was (while standing by the taffrail on the poop)
We could hear the drowning folk lament the absent chicken coop;
Then, having washed the blood away, we’d little else to do
Than to dance a quiet hornpipe as the old salts taught us to.

O! the fiddle on the fo’c’sle, and the slapping naked soles,
And the genial “Down the middle, Jake, and curtsey when she rolls!”
With the silver seas around us and the pale moon overhead,
And the look-out not a-looking and his pipe-bowl glowing red.

Ah! the pig-tailed, quidding pirates and the pretty pranks we played,
All have since been put a stop to by the naughty Board of Trade;
The schooners and the merry crews are laid away to rest,
A little south the sunset in the islands of the Blest.

Friday poem: Here I Love You

Tony and I are getting married tomorrow, so forgive the schmaltz. (A brief hiatus from John Masefield!)

Aww! Houseboating in Knysna in August 2009
Aww! Houseboating in Knysna in August 2009

Though I hardly think Pablo Neruda classes as schmaltz! This poem is from Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair, and translated from the Spanish. If you can read Spanish (I’m jealous!) then you’ll want this version of the book (if you’re in South Africa), otherwise get the version here.

Here I Love You – Pablo Neruda

Here I love you.
In the dark pines the wind disentangles itself.
The moon glows like phosphorous on the vagrant waters.
Days, all one kind, go chasing each other.

The snow unfurls in dancing figures.
A silver gull slips down from the west.
Sometimes a sail. High, high stars.

Oh the black cross of a ship.
Sometimes I get up early and even my soul is wet.
Far away the sea sounds and resounds.
This is a port.
Here I love you.

Here I love you and the horizon hides you in vain.
I love you still among these cold things.
Sometimes my kisses go on those heavy vessels
that cross the sea towards no arrival.

I see myself forgotten like those old anchors.
The piers sadden when the afternoon moors there.
My life grows tired, hungry to no purpose.
I love what I do not have. You are so far.

My loathing wrestles with the slow twilights.
But night comes and starts to sing to me.
The moon turns its clockwork dream.

The biggest stars look at me with your eyes.
And as I love you, the pines in the wind
want to sing your name with their leaves of wire.

Friday poem: Cargoes

Continuing our John Masefield series… A quinquereme is a type of Roman galley with banks of oars for propulsion. A moidore is a type of Portuguese gold coin. Notice the progression through time, from 2000 years ago to the present.

Cargoes – John Masefield

Quinquereme of Nineveh from distant Ophir,
Rowing home to haven in sunny Palestine,
With a cargo of ivory,
And apes and peacocks,
Sandalwood, cedarwood, and sweet white wine.

Stately Spanish galleon coming from the Isthmus,
Dipping through the Tropics by the palm-green shores,
With a cargo of diamonds,
Emeralds, amythysts,
Topazes, and cinnamon, and gold moidores.

Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack,
Butting through the Channel in the mad March days,
With a cargo of Tyne coal,
Road-rails, pig-lead,
Firewood, iron-ware, and cheap tin trays.

Friday poem: Sea Fever

A classic poem of longing for the ocean… It’s lovely to read aloud. Maybe you had to learn it by heart at school.

Sea Fever – John Masefield

I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a gray mist on the sea’s face, and a gray dawn breaking.

I must down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way, where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.

And then a bonus poem from Spike Milligan…

I Must Go Down to the Sea Again – Spike Milligan

I must go down to the sea again,
to the lonely sea and the sky;
I left my shoes and socks there –
I wonder if they’re dry?

Friday poem: Inland

Here’s some more Edna St Vincent Millay.

Inland – Edna St Vincent Millay

People that build their houses inland,
People that buy a plot of ground
Shaped like a house, and build a house there,
Far from the sea-board, far from the sound

Of water sucking the hollow ledges,
Tons of water striking the shore,—
What do they long for, as I long for
One salt smell of the sea once more?

People the waves have not awakened,
Spanking the boats at the harbour’s head,
What do they long for, as I long for,—
Starting up in my inland bed,

Beating the narrow walls, and finding
Neither a window nor a door,
Screaming to God for death by drowning,—
One salt taste of the sea once more?

Friday poem: Exiled

Here’s some longing for the ocean by one of my favourite lady poets, Edna St Vincent Millay. “I have a need of water near” too, which is why I plan to submerge myself repeatedly this weekend!

Exiled – Edna St Vincent Millay

Searching my heart for its true sorrow,
This is the thing I find to be:
That I am weary of words and people,
Sick of the city, wanting the sea;

Wanting the sticky, salty sweetness
Of the strong wind and shattered spray;
Wanting the loud sound and the soft sound
Of the big surf that breaks all day.

Always before about my dooryard,
Marking the reach of the winter sea,
Rooted in sand and dragging drift-wood,
Straggled the purple wild sweet-pea;

Always I climbed the wave at morning,
Shook the sand from my shoes at night,
That now am caught beneath great buildings,
Stricken with noise, confused with light.

If I could hear the green piles groaning
Under the windy wooden piers,
See once again the bobbing barrels,
And the black sticks that fence the weirs,

If I could see the weedy mussels
Crusting the wrecked and rotting hulls,
Hear once again the hungry crying
Overhead, of the wheeling gulls,

Feel once again the shanty straining
Under the turning of the tide,
Fear once again the rising freshet,
Dread the bell in the fog outside,—

I should be happy,—that was happy
All day long on the coast of Maine!
I have a need to hold and handle
Shells and anchors and ships again!

I should be happy, that am happy
Never at all since I came here.
I am too long away from water.
I have a need of water near.