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Sunday, 6 December 2009

Old Ballad


File:Shipwreck in low fog at Ocean Beach.jpg

Night, rain, lamps, man in the street -- what does he want,
And that child he was, his mother wondering
As she stands holding his hand in the rain
What chance of happiness awaits him,
What happens now? I think a bus comes, the town
Simpleton plucks at the grass, all these silent
Faces fill the square, false moons in wet midnight --
The fleet probably already lost, yet no
Talk yet of wrecks of hats found floating,
The bandbox filling up with ghosts, the mothers
And wives who've been through all this before,
Who know the ships will be lost whispering
No warnings to the tiers of shadowy trees,
No rumours of life, no other signs so far.

File:2008-12-15 Lanzarote Wreck.jpg

Shipwreck in low fog at Ocean Beach, San Francisco
: photo by Mila Zinkova, 2009
Wreck close to Arrezife, Lanzarote: photo by Gernot Keller, 2008

1 comment:

TC said...

This is a re-posting. The poem appeared earlier. The title has been changed because the post became host to unwanted commercial traffic.

Here are the original comments:

Andrew Bowie said...

when I come home

the stones in the garden

will have passed away

his foot sure

as the sun,

though the hours have long

passed away

05 November 2009 17:11


TC said...

These become the words of Odysseus

or of any someone, returning,

as the long day closes, from shadows

into shadows

06 November 2009 00:02


Lucy in the Sky said...

"And no one showed us to the land
And no one knows the wheres or whys
But something stirs and something tries
And starts to climb towards the light"

The weary ships rest on the sand after an arduous battle with the roaring waves. They are exhausted but no one will ever take adventure away from them. They have sailed and they have moored. And they have been fortunate enough not to sink... Now, they have become myths. They hide a mystery all viewers want to unveil. They are the kings of the shore...

I love the tone and the images in your poem, Tom. Life is a vast ocean and we are tiny boats adrift...

06 November 2009 05:34


TC said...

Thank you Lucy. You have fathomed (!) much of what lies beneath this poem.

I had in mind the old Scots ballad of Sir Patrick Spens, imagining the ladies worrying about the sailors gone to sea in the storm and perhaps already in their hearts lamenting their loss.

As to the sailors themselves, this might have represented their point of view:

"And no one showed us to the land
And no one knows the wheres or whys"

And in the end all there was of them was a memory, and their hats found floating.

There are many modern versions of the ballad, several wonderful ones by folk artists like Nic Jones and Ewan McColl.

Here is a rather remarkable recitative version:

The Ballad of Sir Patrick Spens

06 November 2009 06:42


Zephirine said...

Beautifully expressed, Tom... a loss that one doesn't know has happened yet but feels its muffled footsteps (or wave-falls) in the distance, getting inexorably nearer.

And those poor dying ships complement it perfectly.

30 November 2009 11:08


TC said...

Thank you very much Zeph. That somewhat apprehensive impercipience and vague feeling of inevitability, the sense things will come out as they will without regard to what we think about it, and perhaps not come out very well -- yes, therein lay the tone I was trying to catch. (Fount of perpetual good cheer that I am.)

30 November 2009 22:50