On the centenary of this poet laureate I think it worth noting that those who write poetry for children have a special place in the world. Generation after generation they are forever young. Smith also wrote for old fogies. A long lived man who reached 97 years of age, born 100 years ago, this day, 1918.
Winter Morning; by William Jay Smith
All night the wind swept over the house
and through our dream
swirling the snow up through the pines,
ruffling the white, ice-capped clapboards,
rattling the windows,
rustling around and below our bed
so that we rode
over wild water
in a white ship breasting the waves.
We rode through the night
on green, marbled
water, and, half-waking, watched
the white, eroded peaks of icebergs
sail past our windows;
rode out the night in that north country,
and awoke, the house buried in snow,
perched on a
chill promontory, a
in the mouth of the cold valley,
its white tongue looped frozen around us,
the trunks of tall birches
revealing the rib cage of a whale
stranded by a still stream;
and saw, through the motionless baleen of their branches,
as if through time,
light that shone
on a landscape of ivory,
a harbor of bone.
On this day in 1120 Henry 1 of England was departing from Barfleur (near Cherbourg) in Normandy to return to England. The Captain of the White Ship, Thomas Fitzstephen, offered his vessel to the King. Henry did not sail on the vessel, but he placed his only legitimate son, William Adelin on board.
William decided that a party was in order and broke out some barrels of wine for the crew and passengers. Accounts say there were 300 on board when the ship sailed. They hit a rock and the ship sank with the loss of all but two lives.
The result was a constitutional crisis in England. Henry nominated his daughter Matilda as his successor. But Stephen of Blois, a nephew of Henry, usurped her rule. The result was 18 years of civil war from 1135 to 1153 and the devastation of the economy of southern England.
The son of Matilda and Geoffrey Plantagenet, Count of Anjou, Henry Curtmantle, went on to become Henry II of England, the first Plantagenet king. He married the most powerful woman in Europe, Elanor of Aquitaine.
The moral of this story is simple: Don’t drink and sail!
“Any damn fool can navigate the world sober. It takes a really good sailor to do it drunk.” – Sir Francis Chichester
“To the question, “When were your spirits at the lowest ebb?” the obvious answer seemed to be, “When the gin gave out.” – Sir Francis Chichester