The Ship and the Man: 1. The Ship


The sunlight glinted on the dockyard wall
Gilding the ugly brickwork, damp and dark,
And there within the hammers, busy all,
Fell sharply, cheerily, upon some barque.

Some little ship in early infancy,
Some little ship as yet unknown to fame,
Some little ship to sail upon the sea,
Some little ship for honour or for shame.

‘John Anderson’ her name, and on her prow
‘Twas writ for all to read in letters gold:
The hammers silent! She is ready now
For all that useful life for her may hold.

And there has dawned that ne’er forgotten day
When she is lying ready on the slide;
A shout, a shudder, and in bunting gay,
Into the eager water she doth glide.

She takes the waves and sends the white spray high
And rides, a queen, upon the laughing sea;
And from all throats goes up a joyous cry
For what she is and what she yet may be.

Her crew is stationed and her orders ta’en,
She heads her prow for distant lands afar;
Her sails full set she bounds into the main,
And sets her course and sees her guiding star.

The weather fair, she travels like a bird,
Her course is true and swift, her purpose clear;
But comes a day when mutterings are heard,
And those she carries know the breath of fear.

Great clouds go mounting up the angry sky,
The billows leap, the wind is loud and strong,
The captain casts aloft an anxious eye,
And girds himself for struggle hard and long.

Yet all is well, the storm in anger roars
And tosses her in fruitless violence:
In vain each breaker after breaker pours
Upon her heaving deck its waters dense.

Her helmsman keeps her straight, her rudder true
Guides her through tumult from the sea and sky,
As long as that will hold safe are her crew,
And she can hostile elements defy.

But racked upon one mountain wave that tossed
Her giddy to the next her rudder broke,
And now her guiding hand was surely lost,
And now to panic stark her crew awoke.

As helpless as a child she spun about,
The plaything now of forces bent to kill;
Her rudder gone, her ruin left no doubt,
Nor power to save her had that magic skill.

Her sails from off her masts were rudely torn,
Her masts fell splintered in the seething foam;
Upon her plight the storm gods turned their scorn,
And threw her where the rocks the sea did comb.

She could not stay herself; in terror sped
A derelict towards the cruel teeth;
Upon their jagged edge she smashed her head,
And swiftly slid the hungry main beneath.

A swirl, an eddy, that was all! No more
To show where she had plunged beneath the foam,
And to those loved ones that had thronged the shore
The news was brought that she would not come home.

End of Part 1