The Sailor’s Tale

‘What's madness but nobility of soul
At odds with circumstance?’
            —Theodore Roethke, ‘In a Dark Time’

By ship the only journey is: the lading and the embarcation;
these the things I take, none other; and the going where I will,
full-free to climb the curvature to place without a reference
but all the awe of vivid night’s encirclement of nil.

Some say me crazed and labourly, would have their quickened ways to go,
and nevermore the hunting but the finding of the Snark.
The Bellman had a better thought: Not every place is on a map…
Nor will the sea lie still for me, and so do I decry the mark.

I, in my day, was Halcyon that risked his all upon a raft
of twigs and weed, and these the very seas that I then tamed.
How now am I a wiser man? I plough, I ply the whale’s lone way;
my anchors rust; I place no trust in continents I named.

A foreigner in any port: to me it seems the land do sway,
but must my mistrust be misplaced? I know no way of knowing;
yet I shall stitch my torn sail up, be after gone again,
bounded for no man’s land. My only certainty is going.

Philip Quinlan

If you have any comments on this poem, Philip Quinlan  would be pleased to hear from you.