Thanks to Hans Christian Rieck for pointing this one out.
The poem, by the way (isn’t the Internet wonderful!), the title comes from a poem by the American poet Longfellow, which turns up on the Poetry Foundation website among other places.
Poetry can be a complicated thing, and at a big distance in time its meaning can be lost if no-one explainsd it. So here’s a short quotation from the Poetry Foundation’s piece about Longfellow:
‘The Building of the Ship combines a tribute to the master builder who designed the ship with a love story linking the master’s daughter to the ‘fiery youth’ employed in its construction while making clear that the Union stood allegorically for the United States on the eve of secession. Fanny Kemble performed this poem in dramatic readings, bringing herself and audiences to tears in the memorable emotional crescendo of the last stanza with its invocation to an imperiled country that is nonetheless the best hope for the world: ‘Thou, too, sail on, O Ship of State! / Sail on, O UNION, strong and great!’ President Abraham Lincoln, hearing these lines recited in the midst of the Civil War, is reported to have wept before remarking, ‘It is a wonderful gift to be able to stir men like that.’
Nowadays, of course, we tend to titter at ‘ship of state’ analogies and patriotic idealism, and instead of high hopes for the future, instead worry that our political leaders may be influenced a little too much by the rich and powerful. Such different times…
I also note that Longfellow clearly had an inkling about the aims of the ship designer – not too much tophamper, centre of gravity not too high, the importance of hull form in steering, and a stern designed to allow the water to close nicely aft…
(By the way – there’s a fairly recent post on this weblog about another famous nautical Longfellow piece, The Wreck of the Hesperus.)
The Building of the Ship
By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
‘Build me straight, O worthy Master!
Stanch and strong, a goodly vessel,
That shall laugh at all disaster,
And with wave and whirlwind wrestle!’
The merchant’s word
Delighted the Master heard;
For his heart was in his work, and the heart
Giveth grace unto every Art.
A quiet smile played round his lips,
As the eddies and dimples of the tide
Play round the bows of ships,
That steadily at anchor ride.
And with a voice that was full of glee, Continue reading “‘Build me straight’ 1963 Scottish documentary about the building of a fishing boat”