Happy birthday Thomas Bailey Aldrich

Ship in port

 

Today I choose a poem by Aldrich, born today 1836,  which captures the sense of adventure that used to exist in every sea port of the world in the age of sail.  Any young adventurer could run away to sea and find himself storm-tossed across the globe with risks of wealth, danger, romance and death.  A suitable topic for this blog, a true Mindship theme.

Outward Bound became the name of a youth training movement in Britain during the 1940’s, now known as the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award.  I have no proof that the name Outward Bound came from the Aldrich poem, but I suspect it may have.  The founders were certainly interested enough in poetry.  Their motto “To Serve, To Strive and not to Yield” is taken from Ulysses, the poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson.

 

Outward Bound: by Thomas Bailey Aldrich

I leave behind me the elm-shadowed square
And carven portals of the silent street,
And wander on with listless, vagrant feet
Through seaward-leading alleys, till the air
Smells of the sea, and straightway then the care
Slips from my heart, and life once more is sweet.
At the lane’s ending lie the white-winged fleet.
O restless Fancy, whither wouldst thou fare?
Here are brave pinions that shall take thee far —
Gaunt hulks of Norway; ships of red Ceylon;
Slim-masted lovers of the blue Azores!
‘Tis but an instant hence to Zanzibar,
Or to the regions of the Midnight Sun;
Ionian isles are thine, and all the fairy shores!

 

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The Old Ship Inn

The-Old-Ship-by-Humphrey-Bolton

Brighouse in Yorkshire is about as far from the Sea as you can get in Northern England.  It is a town lying on the spine between Yorkshire and Lancashire.  So if you ever travel there you may be amused to find a pub called the Old Ship Inn, far far from the sea.

The history of the Pub will surprise you even more, and will take you round the world and to the US Civil War.

The Old Ship Inn is so called because in 1926, named the Prince of Wales,  it was renovated from the timbers of the broken up Royal Navy 101 Gun HMS Donegal.  In 2007 the Prince of Wales was renamed the Old Ship inn.

HMS Donegal herself was a first rate ship when launched in 1858.  She was a screw driven sail rigged battleship at the very end of the age of sail.  She, along with every other wooden battleship, became obsolete on the day the CSS Virginia and the USS Monitor clashed in the US Civil War in the 1862 Battle of Hampton Roads, the first clash of ironclads.

It was the US Civil War that made the HMS Donegal famous.  Six months after the capitulation of the South the last combatants of the war arrived in Liverpool.  The CSS Shenandoah was raiding Union Commerce Shipping in the Pacific when she learned of the surrender.  Rather than return to the USA and risk imprisonment the crew sailed to Britain.

Shenandoah was the only Confederate Ship to circumnavigate the globe.  In her one year campaign the CSS Shenandoah captured or sank 38 ships.  Her crew were the last combatants of the war.   In Liverpool the captain of the Shenandoah surrendered his flag to the HMS Donegal.  6th November, 1865, on this day.

Happy Birthday William Stanley Merwin

Merwin

If there is a prize for poetry he has not won then it is probably not worth winning, excepting the Nobel prize for literature, which may well yet be his.  Merwin was born in the same year as both my parents, on this day in 1927.  His poetry seems so much younger than my parents ever were.

The Ships are made ready in silence: by W.S. Merwin

Moored to the same ring:
The hour, the darkness and I,
our compasses hooded like falcons.

Now the memory of you comes aching in
With a wash of broken bits which never left port
In which once we planned voyages,
they come knocking like hearts asking:
What departures on this tide?

Breath of land, warm breath,
you tighten the cold around the navel,
though all shores but the first have been foreign,
and the first was not home until left behind.

Our choice is ours but we have not made it,
containing as it does, our destination
circled with loss as with coral, and
a destination only until attained.

I have left you my hope to remember me by,
though now there is little resemblance.
At this moment I could believe in no change,
the mast perpetually
vacillating between the same constellations,
the night never withdrawing its dark virtue
from the harbor shaped as a heart,
the sea pulsing as a heart,
the sky vaulted as a heart,
where I know the light will shatter like a cry
above a discovery:
‘Emptiness.
Emptiness! Look!’
Look. This is the morning.

 

Crowded field

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A very auspicious day today, very popular with the celebrity birthdays.  It is a crowded field, but for me it will always be Pompey day.  Not only was he born today but he also got leave from the senate to celebrate his third triumph today in 61 BC.  The Senate celebrated Pompey for his war against the pirates, which made him fantastically rich.  He was already rich when he started, but this was the icing on the cake.

He also slipped in at the end of Lucullus’ war against Mithridates VI in the East and claimed the win for himself.  Cheeky!

This was undoubtedly the high water mark of Pompey’s career.  In 59 BC Pompey harnessed his significant senatorial weight to the wealth of Crassus and the populism of Caesar to form the first triumvirate.  From this point the trajectories in the careers of Caesar and Pompey were a reflection of each other as the Elder statesman declined and the young pretender rose in prominence.

 

 

Arnemuiden

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On this day in 1338 a French fleet of galleys attacked a flotilla of five large carracks out of England.  The English were carrying a large wool cargo purchased by Edward III to trade in the Netherlands.

England made good money in the middle ages exporting wool to Europe.  Flanders was the hub of cloth production in Northern Europe.  They converted the raw wool bales into fine cloth carrying out the carding, spinning, dyeing and weaving before passing it onwards for a hefty profit.

The huge French fleet swept down on the English at Arnemuiden in Flanders when they were unloading the cargo.

The English fought back bravely.  John Kingston, captain of the flagship, the Christopher, had three cannon and a handgun on board.  It is the first recorded use of artillery in a European naval battle.

Carracks are sailing vessels, easily outclassing galleys in the open sea, but no match for them in a tight harbour.  The huge French fleet overwhelmed the English, seized the ships and cargo and slaughtered the prisoners.  This was the opening naval action of the 100 years war.

 

Winding Wool: by Robert William Service

She’d bring to me a skein of wool
And beg me to hold out my hands;
so on my pipe I cease to pull
And watch her twine the shining strands
Into a ball so snug and neat,
Perchance a pair of socks to knit
To comfort my unworthy feet,
Or pullover my girth to fit.

As to the winding I would sway,
A poem in my head would sing,
And I would watch in dreamy way
The bright yarn swiftly slendering.
The best I liked were coloured strands
I let my pensive pipe grow cool . . .
Two active and two passive hands,
So busy wining shining wool.

Alas! Two of those hands are cold,
And in these days of wrath and wrong,
I am so wearyful and old,
I wonder if I’ve lived too long.
So in my loneliness I sit
And dream of sweet domestic rule . . .
When gentle women used to knit,
And men were happy winding wool.

Lefort disaster

Lefort wreck

Wreck of the Lefort by Ivan Alvazovsky

On this day in 1857 the Russian ship of the line Lefort was lost in a squall en route from Tallinn to St Petersburg. She went down with 756 crew, 53 wives and 17 children.  Press reported that there was 1 survivor.

Rated for 84 guns she carried 95 which would make her top heavy.  The board of enquiry noted that her cargo was not balanced properly so she did not have enough ballast low down in the hull to help the ship right herself.  When the squall struck she leaned hard over.  There was speculation that the gun ports were open to provide ventilation, in which case they would have allowed the water to flood in as she heeled.  This is exactly how the Mary Rose is thought to have floundered.

A shipping disaster in a far away sea a long time ago comes sharply into focus when your own son is travelling on a ferry on the very anniversary en route from Helsinki to Tallinn, through the same waters, with a storm warning in place.

Excerpt from “The Loss Of The Eurydice”; by Gerard Manley Hopkins

9

Too proud, too proud, what a press she bore!
Royal, and all her royals wore.
Sharp with her, shorten sail!
Too late; lost; gone with the gale.

10

This was that fell capsize,
As half she had righted and hoped to rise
Death teeming in by her portholes
Raced down decks, round messes of mortals.

11

Then a lurch forward, frigate and men;
‘All hands for themselves’ the cry ran then;
But she who had housed them thither
Was around them, bound them or wound them with her.

 

9/11

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A great day for Scotsmen, who celebrate the victory of William Wallace over the British at the Battle of Sterling Bridge in 1297.

A great day for Maltese, who celebrate the lifting of the Great Siege of Malta when the Knights Hospitallers defeated the might of the Ottoman Empire at the height of its power in 1565.

A remarkable day in the history of New York, when Henry Hudson discovered the Hudson River and Manhattan Island in 1609.

A mixed day for the Duke of Marlborough and his allies in the war of the Spanish Succession.  They defeated the French at Malplaquet in 1709 but it was something of a pyrrhic victory as the allies lost twice as many men as the French.

A better day for the Americans in 1814 at the battle of Plattsburgh on Lake Champlain when they defeated the British in the war of 1812.

A bad day in 1916 when the central span of the Quebec Bridge collapsed with the deaths of 11 men.

A worse day in 2001 with the loss of 2,296 people in terror attacks on the Twin Towers.

Today we are not sure yet how bad a day it has been for the people of Florida in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.

This ebb and flow across one date in history reminds me of the following sonnet.

 

SONNET 64; by William Shakespeare

When I have seen by Time’s fell hand defaced
the rich-proud cost of outworn buried age;
When sometime lofty towers I see down-razed
and brass eternal, slave to mortal rage;
When I have seen the hungry ocean gain
advantage on the kingdom of the shore,
and the firm soil win of the watery main,
increasing store with loss, and loss with store;
When I have seen such interchange of state,
or state itself confounded to decay;
ruin hath taught me thus to ruminate
That Time will come and take my love away.

This thought is as a death, which cannot choose
But weep to have that which it fears to lose.