This is the literary weblog of Jeffrey W. Hull, M.D., a pediatrician. It is intended mainly as a place to maintain a collection of poetry created for the enjoyment of a few friends and as an archive for my family. All material is protected by US copyright.

Jeffrey Hull

Friday, July 15, 2005

John Blue

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


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