“ I think poetry is written mostly for pleasure, by which I mean
The pleasure of pain, horror, anguish, and awe as
Well as the pleasure of beauty, music,
And the act of living.”
- Kenneth Slessor
COOK was a captain of the Admiralty
When sea-captains had the evil eye,
Or should have, what with beating krakens off
And casting nativities of ships;
Cook was a captain of the powder days
When captains, you might have said, if you had been
Fixed by their glittering stare, half down the side,
Or gaping at them up companionways,
Were more like warlocks than a humble man-
And men were humble then who gazed at them,
Poor horn-eyed sailors, bullied by devil’s fists
Or wind or water, or the want of both,
Childlike and trusting, filled with eager trust-
Cook was a captain of the sailing days
When sea-captains were kings like this,
Not cold executives of company-rules
Cracking boilers for a dividend
Or bidding their engineers go wink
At bells and telegraphs, so plates would hold
Another pound. Those captains drove their ships
By their own blood, no laws of schoolbook steam,
Till yards were sprung, and masts went overboard-
Daemons in periwigs, doling magic out,
Who reads fair alphabets in stars
Where humbler men found but a mess of sparks,
Who steered their crews by mysteries
And strange, half-dreadful sortilege with books,
Used medicines that only gods could know
The sense of, but sailors drank
In simple faith. That was the captain
Cook was when he came to the Coral Sea
And chose a passage into the dark.
How many mariners had made that choice
Paused on the brink of mystery! “Choose now!”
The winds roared, blowing home, blowing home,
Over the Coral Sea. “Choose now!” the trades
Cried once to Tasman, throwing him for choice
Their teeth or shoulders, and the Dutchman chose
The wind’s way, turning north. “Choose, Bougainville!”
The wind cried once, and Bougainville had heard
The voice of God, calling him prudently
Out of the dead lee shore, and chose the north,
The wind’s way. So, too, Cook made choice,
Over the brink, into the devil’s mouth,
With four months’ food, and sailors wild with dreams
Of English beer, the smoking barns of home.
So Cook made choice, so Cook sailed westabout,
So men write poems in Australia.
THE TWO CLOCKS
TWO chronometers the captain had,
One by Arnold that ran like mad,
One by Kendal in a walnut case,
Poor devoted creature with a hangdog face.
Arnold always hurried with a crazed click-click
Dancing over Greenwich like a lunatic,
Kendal panted faithfully his watch-dog beat,
Climbing out of Yesterday with sticky little feet.
Arnold choked with appetite to wolf up time,
Madly round the numerals his hands would climb,
His cogs rushed over and his wheels ran miles,
Dragging Captain Cook to the Sandwich Isles.
But Kendal dawdled in the tombstoned past,
With a sentimental prejudice to going fast,
And he thought very often of a haberdasher’s door
And a yellow-haired boy who would knock no more.
All through the night-time, clock talked to clock,
In the captain’s cabin, tock-tock-tock,
One ticked fast and one ticked slow,
And time went over them a hundred years ago.
Location: ˙˙˙soɹǝ∀ ǝʌo˥ I ˙˙˙soɹǝ∀ ǝʌo˥ I ˙˙˙soɹǝ∀ ǝʌo˥ I
With Ma from the cathouse and I out of jail, we had just settled down for a good piece of tail, when out on the lawn there arose such a clatter, I jumped off Ma to see 'twas the matter.
Away to the window, I made a mad dash, threw open the shutters and fell on my ass, When what to my bloodshot eyes should appear, but a rusty old sleigh and a dozen reindeer. With a little old driver holding his I knew in a moment the bastard was Nick.
Slower than snails his chargers they came, he bitched and he swore as he called them by name,
"Now Dancer, Now Prancer, up over the walls, quick now, dammit, or I'll cut off your "
For an informed discussion about Kenneth Slessor's 'Five Bells', look on the ABC RN website in The Bookshow and search Kenneth Slessor. 2008. Good stuff.
His 'Beach Burial' will forever clutch. Written during his stint as war correspondent in Second World War, witnessing the evacuation to Crete after the debacle in Greece.
Softly and humbly to the Gulf of Arabs The convoys of dead sailors come; At night they sway and wander in the waters far under, But morning rolls them in the foam.
Between the sob and clubbing of the gunfire Someone, it seems, has time for this, To pluck them from the shallows and bury them in burrows And tread the sand upon their nakedness;
And each cross, the driven stake of tidewood, Bears the last signature of men, Written with such perplexity, with such bewildered pity, The words choke as they begin -
'Unknown seaman' - the ghostly pencil Wavers and fades, the purple drips, The breath of wet season has washed their inscriptions As blue as drowned men's lips,
Dead seamen, gone in search of the same landfall, Whether as enemies they fought, Or fought with us, or neither; the sand joins them together, Enlisted on the other front.
Many nautical references in Shakespeare but somehow Hamlet just now is calling for a cue.
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all; And thus the native hue of resolution Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought, And enterprises of great pith and moment With this regard their currents turn awry, And lose the name of action.--Soft you now! The fair Ophelia! Nymph, in thy orisons Be all my sins remember'd.
Get thee to a nunnery: why wouldst thou be a breeder of sinners? I am myself indifferent honest; but yet I could accuse me of such things that it were better my mother had not borne me: I am very proud, revengeful, ambitious, with more offences at my beck than I have thoughts to put them in, imagination to give them shape, or time to act them in. What should such fellows as I do crawling between earth and heaven? We are arrant knaves, all; believe none of us. Go thy ways to a nunnery.
(chuckle) ...... .... (sigh !) why am I not surprised .. thanks Fantome will give it one more try
AIR MAIL – PALESTINE
“PRAISE God, from whom all blessings flow,”
The padre said; and row on row
The rustling hymn books, in the sun,
Flickered, were folded. Then as one
A thousand voices stirred the air –
Were silent. Heads were bent in prayer.
Above the Padre’s voice we heard
An engine drone; then like a bird
With silvered wings, we saw the plane
Above the sandhills, out to sea,
Heading, with mail, to Galilee.
And in the clouds we saw again
Our homes; the noonday shimmering sun
On farm, and beach, and station run;
The stock knee-high in summer grass,
The shearers nodding as we pass,
Each stand; the silos crammed with wheat,
The sheepdogs panting in the heat;
The breakers’ curl, the lash of foam.
The aching, taunting thoughts of home.
“Praise God, from whom…”, and each man bends
His head, to thank his God who sends
Halfway across the world, the mail:
Who deems those engines shall not fail,
But that they bring across the sea
The mail, to His own Galilee.
FLYING TO NEW ZEALAND
HAULED headlong starward by the quadruple conviction
Of lion-lunged engines in their pride of power
That roar for their prey on the fleecy cloud-veldt –
The droves of distance and the dwindling hour.
We in their wake mounting winged as eagles
Are mingled with the moon-drift, surprise time past,
As hundreds and thousands of a glimmering coastline
Are brushed into darkness by our spurning blast,
Till we rest at the equipoise of sea and firmament
All night in the cradle of a rocking wing,
And the clouds file past by us in ceremonial order,
And the stars wheel backwards, and the engines sing.
And the ocean that was adversary to Cook and Tasman
Crawls, abject, tiny, through a cloud crevasse,
And suddenly with the sunrise we are in collision
And the sun boils molten from a gold morass.
And the Long White Cloud of the first discoverers
Lies billowed far below us, and the land they found,
As we sail, transmuted, in the solar morning,
In a soaring solitude drenched and drowned.