What the Bottle Said.
A blistered span of blazing sand,
A burning arch of sky . . .
Despair and Death on either hand . . .
Alone . . . And so to die.
A sandbank in the Indian Sea,
With not a patch of shade . . .
An atoll in the awful sea,
Outside the tracks of trade.
Here write I this . . . and gaunt fiends too
Have written, mocking me —
One thrice-cursed wretch of all a crew,
One saved of twenty-three.
For twenty-two the sharks have ta’en,
And hungrily they fed ;
For twenty-two ha’ done with pain.
They suffered . . . They are dead.
One yet survives . . . Just God, the thirst
That tears my veins to-day . . .
The last! the last! . . . Why last, not FIRST?
. . . And why not yesterday ?
No sail! No chance! I ’ve tried to pray!
The end is coming — close . . .
Christ, ease my soul! Ah, take away
That face! . . . Ah, Nancy Mose!
The calm, wide waste! The sky spread clear!
All things to jibe my woe!
The girl who waits — so dear, so dear!
My Nance! I loved her so.
And I had sworn to come back soon!
. . . That this should be the last!
A boiling surf! A mad typhoon!
An hour! And all — the Past!
One battered wretch to fight for breath
And beat the breakers through —
Spared. Spared! My God! when kinder Death
Has smiled on twenty-two.
Not mad . . . not yet : but deep in Hell,
Ten fathoms deep, I ’ve seen! . . .
Kind God, I sinned! Thou knowest well . .
But I was living clean.
Clean for her sake! . . .
Just now I stood
Where cool, clear water flows . . .
And rushed to drink! . . . I fell . . . My God!
. . . Ah, Nancy — Nancy Mose!
I ’ve prayed to Christ to let me go :
I ’ve cursed, I ’ve called, I ’ve cried . . .
And all the world may never know
The horrid way I died.
A heap of bones that wind and sun
Bleach whiter day by day —
A thing that festers in the sun!
A woman far away.
Out there! Out there! Ah, pain! I think . .
Cool, beaded wines . . iced, frothing beer!
Food! Food! Yes, food! Yes, food and drink!
. . . Oh! I am raving . . . here.
Have sucked the vein . . have eaten . . sand!
May Jesus pity me!
My brain gone strange to-day … my hand
Here signed . . . of twenty-three!
The Bristol, ship . . bound out . . Rangoon . .
June . . , twenty . . . forty-three . . .
Hard hit . . . nor’-east typhoon ;
All hands . . . lost . . . lost … but me.
The Bristol, ship . . . in case ye find
The bottle . . . tell — if . . . none but those
Who suffer thirst . . . am going blind . . .
God bless you . . . Nancy Mose!
* * * * *
Floated round, and washed around ;
Flung a thousand leagues ;
Carried round and eddied round
In ocean’s mad intrigues —
Grim words upon a shred of cloth,
With human blood scrawled red,
A drifted tale of wreck and wrath —
And thus the Bottle said.
But only those can know and care.
Who fight the Sea for bread
The inner Truth, red-written there,
Of what the Bottle said.
E. J. Brady.
A.G. Stephens (editor), The Bulletin Reciter: A Collection of Verses for Recitation from “The Bulletin” [1880-1901], Sydney: The Bulletin Newspaper Company, 1902 [first published 1901], pages 123-126
Previously published in:
E. J. Brady, The Ways of Many Waters, Melbourne: Thomas C. Lothian, 1909 [first published 1899], pages 105-108