A List to Port [poem by “Dryblower” Murphy, 1926]

[Editor: This poem by “Dryblower” Murphy was published in Dryblower’s Verses (1926).]

A List to Port.

Fathoms deep on the ocean floor,
Where sightless stare the dead men’s eyes;
A measured mile from the sounding shore
The rusting collier’s carcase lies.
Merely one of a welter of wrecks,
Lost in the ruin the storm has wrought;
The sea-slugs sliming her slanting decks,
Lies the ship that left with a list to port!

* * *

They must carry the coal from port to port,
From the colliery dock to the city quay.
But the gulls to-day in-shore cavort,
An omen sure of storms to be.
The winches whine and the derricks drone,
The cables clank and the baskets swing;
And Plimsoll marks are little known
In the smoky ports where Coal is king.
Then it’s “Close the hatches and stand by steam,
Half astern — and full ahead!”
And the coastal collier stirs the stream
Till she bumps the bar on the harbor bed.
While night winds moan like a soul distraught,
To ships that leave with a list to port.

She buries her bows in the billows green,
Her scuttering blades the rivets rip;
But the cry for Coal is clear and keen,
So it’s do or drown on the coffin ship.
Her stern-post stirs the shifting sand,
Her racing engines rack her ribs;
The seasoned sailor and casual hand,
Sigh in their souls for longshore cribs.
While her decks a-wash to the whitening waves,
And her pistons panting weak and slow,
She shudders above the deep-sea graves,
Where the ill-found ships of the service go.

The wise sea-Solomon’s verdict’s short —
“She left with rather a list to port.”
When the day is bright and the sea is blue,
It is good on a liner to laze along;
And wait, as most of us dawdlers do,
For the grateful lilt of the luncheon gong.
It is cheery to chat to the captain trim,
Who steers at night by the stars above,
To dance on deck in the gloaming dim,
And sing the songs of languid love.
But it’s hell-for-leather aboard the barge
That waddles along in the liner’s wake;
When the great grey wolves of the ocean charge
And the straining cross-heads clank and quake
God help the deep-deck collier caught
In a coastal storm with a list to port!

O, men who never go down in ships
To the sea that carries our human-kind;
Chorus their cause with clarion lips,
And unto their hardship be not blind.
The liner stately, the sluggish scow,
The trading tramp or the cargo tank,
The coaster that punches her plated bow
On the rocky fangs of a reefy bank.
All these, all these have human lives,
Husbands, brothers and sturdy sons;
All these, all these have mothers and wives
Shiv’ring ashore when the cloud-wrack runs.
For life is hard and shrift is short
On ships that leave with a list to port!

Edwin Greenslade Murphy, Dryblower’s Verses, Perth, W.A.: E. G. Murphy, 1926, pages 19-20

Previously published (with some differences) in:
The Sunday Times (Perth, WA), 1 June 1919, p. 4

Editor’s notes:
crib = bed, home, place of residence; from “crib”, referring to a bed for a baby or small child (an enclosed bed with high sides)

cross-head = a bar or beam across the head or end of a rod, used for keeping the motion of the joint between a piston rod and a connecting rod in a straight line as they move; also, a crosspiece on a rudderpost which is used to turn a rudder

gloaming = dusk, twilight

Plimsoll = Plimsoll line, a waterline marked on the side of ships, which must be visible above the water (so as to prevent ships being overloaded, subsequently settling too low in the water, and thus being liable to capsize in turbulent seas); named after Samuel Plimsoll (1824-1898), a British Member of Parliament who campaigned to make such waterlines compulsory by law, so as to prevent the heavy loss of life caused by ships being overloaded

wrack = a group of wind-blown clouds (a cloud rack, or cloud-wrack)

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