Friday, July 15, 2005
Eight Bells, Winslow Homer, 1886
John Blue was master of the ship
That lay 'longside the quay;
She'd beckoned men for many's the trip
And now she beckoned me.
The Lucy resting at her berth
Showed years upon the main;
She'd hauled her cargo 'round the earth
Bulk lumber, coal, and grain.
I'd naught left binding me to shore —
No love, no hearth, no home;
All dry land comforts I foreswore,
The ocean I would roam.
I met the mate and set my hand
And signed on for the crew;
Until the ocean hid the land
I ne'er saw Captain Blue.
But nights on midwatch, lost in thought
The quarter he would pace,
And gaze far off as if he sought
Another time and place.
His story, as the mate would tell
Went round the merchant fleet:
His captain's quarters were his hell
As much as his retreat.
He'd sailed aboard the Mary K.
His bride and son in tow,
But off the mouth of Wentworth Bay
There came a mighty blow.
A wave rose up and knocked her down,
And nothing could be done;
The ship capsized, he watched them drown,
His crew and wife and son.
Twenty souls went down that night
And never saw the sun;
They say he knew it wasn't right
He was not twenty-one.
Authorities convened a board
And while they found no blame,
A new command was no reward,
To sail the seas in shame.
I served before the Lucy's mast
For then the longest time,
'Til I at last forgave my past
And aged beyond my prime.
As years went by, I rose to mate
And served with Captain Blue;
We sailed the seas and hauled the freight
As came and went our crew.
In all that time I don't surmise
He spoke three extra words;
Then only uttered to apprise
Of winds, and waves, and birds.
We both grew old, the Lucy, too,
Our hair bore age's token;
Came word to bid the ship adieu:
The Lucy would be broken.
The captain paid off every hand
And put the crew ashore;
Then paid my share and gave command
To help make sail once more.
We sailed her down the river mouth
And out into the bay
And just before he steered her south
He turned to me to say:
"You've sailed with me, a faithful mate
Wherever winds have blown;
The time has come to tell you straight:
This voyage I make alone.
"Take the boat, and row to land
And leave behind the sea;
Retire to some sunny strand —
The Lucy, leave to me."
I took the boat, and took his word:
The sea and I did part.
Of Lucy never more was heard,
Nor John Blue's tortured heart.
I think the captain found release
His spirit finally home;
And old John Blue can rest in peace
Beneath the ocean's foam.
© 2005 Jeffrey Hull