Friday, November 05, 2010

Poetry Friday: Longfellow

I'm writing this post on Wednesday night, anticipating that I may not have a completely reliable internet connection on Friday, what with the hurricane maybe hitting that day, and all. I found this enormously long poem by Longfellow about building a ship. It seems appropriate as I think about boats around the coastline of this island being moved to safe spots away from the ocean.

(By the way, as I keep saying, Haiti is more than disaster. Take a look at this found poem from the Haitian streets that I posted on Sunday.)

Longfellow is preachy and old-fashioned. Somewhere I have a volume of his poetry that belonged to my grandfather. They are the sort of poems you can imagine being read aloud by gas lamp in Victorian parlors. Somehow this is exactly the sort of thing I want to read as I wait for a hurricane. It helps me to think that


We shall sail securely, and safely reach
The Fortunate Isles, on whose shining beach
The sights we see, and the sounds we hear,
Will be those of joy and not of fear!


Here are some excerpts, and you can read the whole thing here.

(I left out the love story, in which the bride is compared to a barge. A barge? I would not take that as a compliment.)



The Building of the Ship

by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

"Build me straight, O worthy Master!
Stanch and strong, a goodly vessel,
That shall laugh at all disaster,
And with wave and whirlwind wrestle!"

The merchant's word
Delighted the Master heard;
For his heart was in his work, and the heart
Giveth grace unto every Art.
A quiet smile played round his lips,
As the eddies and dimples of the tide
Play round the bows of ships,
That steadily at anchor ride.
And with a voice that was full of glee,
He answered, "Erelong we will launch
A vessel as goodly, and strong, and stanch,
As ever weathered a wintry sea!"

...

And within the porch, a little more
Removed beyond the evening chill,
The father sat, and told them tales
Of wrecks in the great September gales,
Of pirates coasting the Spanish Main,
And ships that never came back again,
The chance and change of a sailor's life,
Want and plenty, rest and strife,
His roving fancy, like the wind,
That nothing can stay and nothing can bind,
And the magic charm of foreign lands,
With shadows of palms, and shining sands,
Where the tumbling surf,
O'er the coral reefs of Madagascar,
Washes the feet of the swarthy Lascar,
As he lies alone and asleep on the turf.
And the trembling maiden held her breath
At the tales of that awful, pitiless sea,
With all its terror and mystery,
The dim, dark sea, so like unto Death,
That divides and yet unites mankind!

...

He knew the chart
Of the sailor's heart,
All its pleasures and its griefs,
All its shallows and rocky reefs,
All those secret currents, that flow
With such resistless undertow,
And lift and drift, with terrible force,
The will from its moorings and its course.
Therefore he spake, and thus said he: —

"Like unto ships far off at sea,
Outward or homeward bound, are we.
Before, behind, and all around,
Floats and swings the horizon's bound,
Seems at its distant rim to rise
And climb the crystal wall of the skies,
And then again to turn and sink,
As if we could slide from its outer brink.
Ah! it is not the sea,
It is not the sea that sinks and shelves,
But ourselves
That rock and rise
With endless and uneasy motion,
Now touching the very skies,
Now sinking into the depths of ocean.
Ah! if our souls but poise and swing
Like the compass in its brazen ring,
Ever level and ever true
To the toil and the task we have to do,
We shall sail securely, and safely reach
The Fortunate Isles, on whose shining beach
The sights we see, and the sounds we hear,
Will be those of joy and not of fear!"

...

Thou, too, sail on, O Ship of State!
Sail on, O Union, strong and great!
Humanity with all its fears,
With all the hopes of future years,
Is hanging breathless on thy fate!
We know what Master laid thy keel,
What Workmen wrought thy ribs of steel,
Who made each mast, and sail, and rope,
What anvils rang, what hammers beat,
In what a forge and what a heat
Were shaped the anchors of thy hope!
Fear not each sudden sound and shock,
'T is of the wave and not the rock;
'T is but the flapping of the sail,
And not a rent made by the gale!
In spite of rock and tempest's roar,
In spite of false lights on the shore,
Sail on, nor fear to breast the sea!
Our hearts, our hopes, are all with thee,
Our hearts, our hopes, our prayers, our tears,
Our faith triumphant o'er our fears,
Are all with thee, — are all with thee!

Poetry Friday is hosted at Teaching Authors today. Here's the round-up.

4 comments:

Andromeda Jazmon said...

I've been praying for Haiti (more than ever) this week. God bless and keep you.

Janet said...

Thinking and praying for you today, Ruth...

KURIOUS KITTY said...

I hope you, and all of Haiti, come through unharmed. --Diane

Amy LV said...

Prayers and good thoughts to you, your students, and everyone. Your tap-tap poem is so very full of poetry. I love both versions and wish I could see that tap-tap myself. A.