The Coal-Ships [poem by Grant Hervey]

[Editor: This poem by Grant Hervey was published in Australians Yet and Other Verses, 1913.]

The Coal-Ships

With freeboards low do the coal-ships go —
Black tanks with a freight of death ;
They are crazed and old, and have gasped and rolled
Long years with a scanty breath.
They are dead, damned ships, that the grimy skips
Load down in a dark delight —
Ere they stumble forth, east, south, and north,
To sink in the roaring night !
They are black with doom, and the ghostly spume
Licks them like famished snakes ;
And the lean waves creep and the grey seas leap
Like panthers in their wakes !

See the P. and O. as they outward go,
And the grand Norddeutscher-Lloyd ;
The stately craft where the bands play aft
On the safe seas broad and void !
But along the coast plies a grim black host
Of ships that are Wallsend-crammed ;
Aye, they have no bands to refresh all hands
On the ships that are doomed and damned !
From the coaly town, lo, they stagger down,
And they grope for the Sydney Heads ;
And some go back on the dismal track
Like strange sea-quadrupeds.
But as many more come to no shore,
But sink in the gloomy night ;
And their owners fume as the surging spume
Blots out the tall mast-light !

Yea, their owners fret and fume and sweat
While the A.B.’s fight for life ;
While the A.B.’s drown, bright diamonds crown
The rich shipowner’s wife !
While a tragedy is played at sea,
It is comedy on shore ;
And drowning hands mock the sweet string bands,
Ere they sink for evermore !
Dark Nemesis, with a fatal kiss,
Touches each seaman’s lips ;
And a blind, fool Fate repents too late
And sighs for the collier ships.
Deep, deep they lie, where there is no sky,
And the green sea hides the dead ;
While the war of Trade, in its greed arrayed,
Goes on and on o’erhead !

When this cursed war is raged no more,
No coffin ships there’ll be ;
And the battered planks of the dead old tanks
Will litter no more the sea.
Then no grim, black craft, straining fore and aft,
Shall founder in the night ;
And amid the coals no drowning souls
Shall gasp in a hopeless fight !
But to-night the old ships plunge and roll,
And the bulkheads strain and cry ;
And the stark masts stab with a reeling jab
At the wind-swept, starless sky.
And to-night our coast sees a grimy host
Of black sea-phantoms pass ;
While safe on shore their owners pour
Bright wine in the ruby glass !

With freeboards low do the coal-ships go —
Black tanks with a freight of death ;
They are crazed and old, and have gasped and rolled
Long years with a scanty breath.
They are dead, damned ships — that the grimy skips
Load down in a dark delight —
Ere they stumble forth, east, south, and north,
To sink in the roaring night !
They are black with doom, and the ghastly spume
Licks them like famished snakes ;
And the lean waves creep, and the grey seas leap
Like panthers in their wakes 1



Source:
Grant Hervey. Australians Yet and Other Verses, Thomas C. Lothian, Melbourne, 1913, pages 59-61

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