To poets: Learn to sail!

Good poet, bad sailor Percy Bysshe Shelley was born August 4th in 1792 and died a month short of his 30th birthday leaving a stunning legacy of poetry.  How much richer would the world have been had he practiced decent seamanship?

The Gulf of La Spezia is known locally as the Golfo dei poeti in commemoration of the disaster.

Rusticated is an obscure word used almost exclusively in Oxford and Cambridge universities.  It means to be expelled, or “sent down” from the college.  There is no higher accolade for a great artist, to break free of the bounds of established academia and be expelled for radicalism.  In Shelley’s case it was for publication of a pamphlet on Atheism.  If you look up a definition of the word “Rusticate” it almost invariably comes with an example which references the expulsion of Shelley.  In a sense he is responsible for the preservation of that meaning of the word.

From The Arabic, An Imitation :by Percy Bysshe Shelley

M.pngy faint spirit was sitting in the light
of thy looks, my love;
It panted for thee like the hind at noon
for the brooks, my love.
Thy barb, whose hoofs outspeed the tempest’s flight,
bore thee far from me;
my heart, for my weak feet were weary soon,
did companion thee.

Ah! fleeter far than fleetest storm or steed,
or the death they bear,
the heart which tender thought clothes like a dove
with the wings of care;
in the battle, in the darkness, in the need,
shall mine cling to thee,
nor claim one smile for all the comfort, love,
it may bring to thee.

 

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Susurrus

Seashell

It’s hard to find the right word to describe the shushing plashing sound of breakers rolling on a beach, the sound of the ocean that we seek in a shell.  Susurrus is commonly used, but is defined in the dictionary as a murmuring sound.  It is onomatopoeic I suppose, and that helps.

Onomatopoeia is a difficult word to spell, so easy to make a mistake with it in a literature exam.  It is when we make words that sound of the thing.  Most societies have a word for a snake that begins with the ssssss sound made by a snake slithering over dry ground.  It probably began life as a warning, because snakes are dangerous to man.  Serpent(e) in romance languages, Slang in germanic languages.

Cuckoo is another good example of onomatopoeia. A bird named for its call.

The poet and short story writer Stephen Vincent Benét, born 120 years ago on this day, found no such word to describe the ocean sound, or he probably would have used it.

A Minor Poet: by Stephen Vincent Benét

I am a shell. From me you shall not hear
the splendid tramplings of insistent drums,
the orbed gold of the viol’s voice that comes,
heavy with radiance, languorous and clear.
Yet, if you hold me close against the ear,
a dim, far whisper rises clamorously,
the thunderous beat and passion of the sea,
the slow surge of the tides that drown the mere.

Others with subtle hands may pluck the strings,
making even Love in music audible,
and earth one glory. I am but a shell
that moves, not of itself, and moving sings;
leaving a fragrance, faint as wine new-shed,
a tremulous murmur from great days long dead.

Happy Birthday Hart Crane

Melvilles tomb

A libation of Baleine salt at Melville’s Tomb.

Born this day in the final year of the 19th Century Harold Hart Crane did not reach the age of Christ and departed this world aged only 32.  Never an easy poet and he never had an easy life.  He struggled with twin demons of drink and sexuality.  His search for an uplifting counterpoint to T.S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland” resulted in poor critical reviews and a slide into depression.

On a steamship from Mexico to New York he made advances to a male member of the crew and was badly beaten.  He leaped into the Gulf of Mexico and his body was never recovered.  At Melville’s tomb did he foresee his own end?

 

At Melville’s Tomb; by Harold Hart Crane

Often beneath the wave, wide from this ledge
the dice of drowned men’s bones he saw bequeath
an embassy. Their numbers as he watched,
beat on the dusty shore and were obscured.

And wrecks passed without sound of bells,
the calyx of death’s bounty giving back
a scattered chapter, livid hieroglyph,
the portent wound in corridors of shells.

Then in the circuit calm of one vast coil,
its lashings charmed and malice reconciled,
frosted eyes there were that lifted altars;
and silent answers crept across the stars.

Compass, quadrant and sextant contrive
to farther tides . . . High in the azure steeps
monody shall not wake the mariner.
This fabulous shadow only the sea keeps.

Yer matey’s a bottle of fun.

Matey

The impact of advertising is that I can’t read this poem.

I can only sing it in my head.  Har har me matey.

A Life on the Ocean Wave; by Epes Sargent

A life on the ocean wave,
A home on the rolling deep,
Where the scattered waters rave,
And the winds their revels keep!
Like an eagle caged, I pine
On this dull, unchanging shore:
Oh! give me the flashing brine,
The spray and the tempest’s roar!

Once more on the deck I stand
Of my own swift-gliding craft:
Set sail! farewell to the land!
The gale follows fair abaft.
We shoot through the sparkling foam
Like an ocean-bird set free; —
Like the ocean-bird, our home
We’ll find far out on the sea.

The land is no longer in view,
The clouds have begun to frown;
But with a stout vessel and crew,
We’ll say, Let the storm come down!
And the song of our hearts shall be,
While the winds and the waters rave,
A home on the rolling sea!
A life on the ocean wave!

Big Dog

Castelveccio

Can Grande translates as “Big Dog”.  Interesting name for the Scaliger family who ruled Verona with an iron fist in the middle ages.  Can Grande II della Scala was also nicknamed Can Rabbioso or “The Rabid Dog”.

It was he who built Castelveccio and the Castelveccio bridge to protect himself and his family from the people he exploited so heavily that they fell into penury.  The castle turned out to be a wasted effort because in classic Italian style Can Grande found his end at the point of his brothers knife.

How much you can learn from an obscure reference in a line of a poem.  What did we ever do before Google?  Happy Birthday Richard Aldington who did his own “googling” in the British Museum.

 

In the British Museum; by Richard Aldington

I turn the page and read:
“I dream of silent verses where the rhyme
glides noiseless as an oar.”
The heavy musty air, the black desks,
the bent heads and the rustling noises
in the great dome
vanish …
and
the sun hangs in the cobalt-blue sky,
the boat drifts over the lake shallows,
the fishes skim like umber shades through the undulating weeds,
the oleanders drop their rosy petals on the lawns,
and the swallows dive and swirl and whistle
about the cleft battlements of Can Grande’s castle…

Gondola

Keys to the earth.

ships-1917

Ships by Lyonel Feininger (1917)

July 1st and half the year is down.  I sit here sweltering in a heatwave, condemned to inactivity by an injury to my ankle.  This year Ireland has become a sunburnt country.  Oh what I would give for a day on the sea, rolling over the waves beneath a full sail, air conditioned by spray and spume.

So instead I man my Mindship and head out across the oceans of imagination.  On my journey I found Dorothea Mackellar, a household name in Australia for the second stanza of her poem “My Country”.

I love a sunburnt country, 
A land of sweeping plains, 
Of ragged mountain ranges, 
Of droughts and flooding rains. 
I love her far horizons, 
I love her jewel-sea, 
Her beauty and her terror 
The wide brown land for me!

Today is her birthday, in the year 1858.  The title of today’s post is taken from another Mackellar poem below.  I love the notion that Ships are the keys to the earth.  That means that instead of being walls between nations the Seas and Oceans are doorways.

The Open Sea; by Dorothea Mackellar

From my window I can see,
where the sandhills dip,
one far glimpse of open sea.
Just a slender slip
curving like a crescent moon—
yet a greater prize
than the harbour garden-fair
spread beneath my eyes.

Just below me swings the bay,
sings a sunny tune,
but my heart is far away
out beyond the dune;
clearer far the sea-gulls’ cry
and the breakers’ roar,
than the little waves beneath
lapping on the shore.

For that strip of sapphire sea
set against the sky
far horizons means to me—
and the ships go by
framed between the empty sky
and the yellow sands,
while my freed thoughts follow them
out to other lands.

All its changes who can tell?
I have seen it shine
like a jewel polished well,
hard and clear and fine;
then soft lilac—and again
on another day
glimpsed it through a veil of rain,
shifting, drifting grey.

When the livid waters flee,
flinching from the storm,
from my window I can see,
standing safe and warm,
how the white foam tosses high
on the naked shore,
and the breakers’ thunder grows
to a battle-roar…

Far and far I look—Ten miles?
no, for yesterday
sure I saw the Blessed Isles
twenty worlds away.
my blue moon of open sea,
is it little worth?
at the least. it gives to me
keys of all the earth.

Maurice Sendak: 90 today.

Wild Things

The wild things cried “Oh please don’t go – We’ll eat you up – we love you so.”

Personally I always felt that Sendak had a poor grasp of seamanship.  He draws a boat with a bowsprit and with three forward stays, but the flying jib stay should be stayed much further out on the bowsprit.

And don’t get me started on the mainsail.  It appears to have no boom and the mainsheet is hanked from the transom to the clew.  That is just not going to work.

The luff of the mainsail is only fastened to the mast at top and bottom.  That is never going to give you a laminar flow across the sail.

Not a running rope or a pulley block to be seen and what is this arrangement of shrouds and some type of ladder to climb the mast?  Preposterous.

Sail

And yet such a yar craft, sprightly and trim.  Firm in the chop, a good solid looking hull.  Clearly has a well designed self-steering rig since Max can sit up waving in the prow as the boat beats into a headwind leaving the island.

Sendak did not illustrate a boat.  He captured the idea of a sailboat, the magic of sailing, without fussing over the mechanics.  As such his drawing is capturing the emotion of sailing rather than the physics, he is drawing a poem instead of a novel.