Tag Archives: poem

The Song of the Waterlily, set to music

Martin Newell’s increasingly acclaimed quartet poem The Song of the Waterlily – the building of a boat has been set to music and recorded by Martin and local band The Hosepipe Band, together with another poem Black Shuck, telling the story of an ancient ‘black dog’ legend.

The Song of the Waterlily describes the building and proving of a traditional Essex deep-sea fishing smack through the eyes of a young shipwright, who helps a master shipwright to construct the boat.

It follows the progress of the Waterlily, from launching and naming, her first regatta, and her first North Sea storm…

“I am The Keel, therefore the king,
For me, the adze and whetstone sing…
And hewn from woodland oak so tall,
Take precedence above you all.”

There’s a sample of the recording on the band page linked above.

Martin’s poem was inspired by the restoration of The Pioneer – a similar boat rebuilt at Brightlingsea by the Pioneer Sailing Trust, an organisation which takes on apprentices and trains them in boat-building skills.

A book of The Song of the Waterlily illustrated by artist James Dodds (see him talk about The Pioneer rebuilding here) is published by Jardine Press.

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Merchantmen, by Cicely Fox Smith

Cicely Fox-Smith’s powerful poem about the brave crews and the miscellaneous collection of merchant vessels – many old and unfit in normal times – that kept the UK supplied during World War I despite the efforts of the German Navy.

My thanks to Charlie Ipcar of Facebook’s Cicely Fox-Smith group for reminding me about this poem. For more about this sailors’ poet, click here. For more about the Merchant Navy during World War I, click here and here, and for a guide to researching this topic, click here.

Merchantmen

These were the ships that kept on going
When the seas were thick with the War’s black sowing –
Great ocean liners in white paint and gold,
Shabby little colliers, all grime and green mould,
Up-to-date cargo boats ugly as sin,
Old seven-knotters with their plates rusted thin,
Has-been clipper-ships, laid up for ages,
Fitted out and rigged new and sent to earn their wages,
Coal-ships and cotton–ships,
Sound ships and rotten ships
From Thames and Clyde and Merseyside that fetched their ports no more –
Tyne ships and Humber ships,
Grain-ships and lumber-ships –
Ships that went down in the War!

These were the men that knew no shirking
The hungry waters where death lay lurking –
Grizzled old skippers that had grown grey in ships,
Young brassbounders with the down on their lips,
White-faced black squad and tanned A.B.’s
In oil-stained boiler-suits and torn dungarees,
That dropped beside the wheel on the deck all bloodied,
That drowned in the darkness when the stokehold flooded,
That froze on the rafts in the bitter Atlantic,
That drifted in boats till the thirst drove them frantic,
Some with wives and youngsters to cry their eyes red,
Some with neither chick nor child to care that they were dead.

Not reckoned greatly daring men,
But every-day seafaring men,
Who stood their trick and earned their whack and took their fun ashore,
Until on every tide for us
They took their chance and died for us –
Men that went down in the War!