The Dead Ships [poem by E. J. Brady]

[Editor: This poem by E. J. Brady was published in The Earthen Floor (1902).]


The Dead Ships.

Sound, sleeping sound, with their sere sails rotting round,
On their bleached beds down below,
By a viscid seaweed slimed, by a hoar ooze whitely rimed,
Lie low, the drown’d dead ships lie low.
All dreaming of the dockyards,
All longing for the quays;
Where the living ships yet come and go,
Still waiting for the south wind,
Still watching for the tides,
And the cheery sailor lad’s ye-ho.

Deep, crowded deep, where the clammy sea-slugs creep,
And the polyp builds and bores,
Turn the traders in their grief, groan the gunships on the reef,
Roll the frigates on the floors.
Oh, the gunship hears the stroke
Of the round-shot through the oak,
And the shouting and the cheering of the boarders dashing down,
But the tradeship’s gentle soul
Loves the tender lap and roll
Of the white-caps making music on the road to London-town.

Low, sleeping low, as the live ships come and go
In their tarnished, torn attire,
They who swung from London-town, they who took the purple down
Into Carthage out of Tyre.
Oh, the gilded barge of Caesar! oh, the cohorts golden mailed!
But, Oh, the green Iolcos on the morn that Jason sailed!
Dreams, dreaming dreams, lie the Suffete’s proud triremes
In their silted Punic bays,
And a tramp hulk rests beside with the glory and the pride
Of the Doges and the Deys.

How fares it with the Builders who wrought so lovingly?
What aileth, then, the Builders that they, thus quiet be?
Nay, ask the brown mounds yonder, I pray ye ask not me.
Far, rocking far, grinds the galleon on the bar
When the night winds moan and cry;
’Tween her curved ribs — shotted yet —
Culverin and falconet,
With the linstocks rusting by.

Ho, Master Thomas Fleming,
Why swings your mains’l round?
The great Armada’s coming
Up Channel, inward bound,
And I’ve brave news to carry
This morn to Plymouth Sound

Sore, smitten, sore, by a jaggéd saw-toothed shore,
By the broadswords of the waves,
With their spewed freights rotting slow
While the live ships come and go,
Dream the dead ships in their graves.

Out of darkness, out of light, slain at noon time, killed at night,
By wrack, by fire, by wounds untold.
In his eyes her blind eyes stare
On her fleshless fingers there —
See! love-locked yet — the hoop of gold.

Gray, waiting gray, for the Trump of Judgment Day
Where the gorged seas groaning spread,
Lie the Lost Fleets biding deep,
Lie the Squadrons all asleep —
Lie the Squadrons of the Dead!

E. J. Brady, The Earthen Floor, Grafton (N.S.W.): Grip Newspaper Co., 1902

Editor’s notes:
morn = morning

sere = dried up or withered

wrack = wreck, wreckage, especially a wrecked ship; something destroyed, or a remnant thereof (such as a shipwreck, or a piece of wreckage); collapse, destruction, or ruin (as in the phrase “wrack and ruin”)

Vernacular spelling in the original text:
’tween (between)

Old spelling in the original text:
ye (you)

[Editor: The spelling mistake in “cherry sailor lad’s” was corrected to “cheery sailor lad’s”, in line with the same poem as published in: E. J. Brady, The House of the Winds, London: George G. Harrap & Co., 1919, pp. 34-37.]

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