The poems

Huzza! Hodgson, we are going,
Our embargo’s off at last;
Favourable breezes blowing
Bend the canvass o’er the mast.
From aloft the signal’s streaming,
Hark! the farewell gun is fired;
Women screeching, tars blaspheming,
Tell us that our time’s expired.
Here’s a rascal
Come to task all,
Prying from the custom-house;
Trunks unpacking
Cases cracking,
Not a corner for a mouse
‘Scapes unsearch’d amid the racket,
Ere we sail on board the Packet.
 
Now at length we’re off for Turkey
Lord knows when we shall come back! 
Breezes foul and tempests murky 
May unship us in a crack. 
But, since life at most a jest is, 
As philosophers allow, 
Still to laugh by far the best is, 
Then laugh on – as I do now. 
Laugh at all things, 
Great and small things, 
Sick or well, at sea or shore; 
While we’re quaffing, 
Let’s have laughing – 
Who the devil cares for more? –
Some good wine! and who would lack it, 
Ev’n on board the Lisbon Packet? 

Lines to Mr. Hodgson
Lord Byron: on leaving Falmouth in 1809

 

The isles of Greece, the Isles of Greece!
Where burning Sappho loved and sung,
Where grew the arts of war and peace,
Where Delos rose, and Phoebus sprung!
Eternal summer gilds them yet,
But all, except their sun, is set.

The Isles of Greece (first verse) within Don Juan
Lord Byron
1788-1824

 

Amidst the rolling waves of oceans comes the lovely thought of you,
Through the soughing of the breezes and the sparkle of the dew;
In the shining light of morning and the blackness of the night,
Come wondrous recollections and dreams of past delight.
In the horror of bitter struggle when my heart is gripped with fear,
When my soul seems lost in darkness, blind and frantic, you are near;
Giving faith and courage to carry me o’er the steepe roaring sea,
In the bleakest of moments you shine bright in my memory,
Bringing rays of sunshine, my tired hopes restored anew,
I cast aside the darkness and cherish the lovely thought of you.

The lovely thought of you     
Caroline Byron

 

One ship drives east and another drives west
With the selfsame winds that blow.
‘tis the set of the sails,
And not the gales,
That tell us the way to go.
Like the winds of the sea are the ways of fate;
As we voyage along through life,
‘tis the set of a soul
That decides its goal,
And not the calm or the strife.

The Winds of Fate
Ella Wheeler Wilcox

The sun rises east and sets in the west;
A routine and familiarity we know.
But ‘tis the grit of the mind,
And never the tide,
That takes us where we go.
And when prospects seem bleak,
In the dark hours of strife,
‘tis the love in our heart
To hold not to part,
That is our treasure in life.

Second verse
Alan Lawrence

 

I once loved a sailor, one young bright and gay,
But now he has left me and gone far away,
To the high seas off Spain he was forced far to go,
To fight in fleet battles and to conquer his foe.

Broken-hearted I’ll wander, broken-hearted I’ll be,
Since my lovely young sailor is gone far from me.

It was Admiral Nelson, it was he in command,
And he sailed his ships to Trafalgar to stand off the land,
He levelled his cannons for some victory to gain,
And he captured old Villeneuve coming over from Spain.

Broken-hearted I’ll wander, broken-hearted in pain,
Since my lovely young sailor in the war he’s been slain.

Were I winged like an eagle, far away I would fly,
To my bonny young sailor and there I would lie,
And where in this world is there one to compare,
With my bonny young sailor, so brave and so fair.

Broken-hearted I’ll wander, broken-hearted I’ll remain,
For my bonnie young sailor I’ll ne’er see again.

Traditional
with maritime flavour by Alan Lawrence

 

I went out aboard the boat,
Because a desire was in my head                          
And spurned the love I left behind,
Though she pleaded we should wed;
And I took the shilling of the King
Whilst great guns were flaming out;
I fought with Nelson at Trafalgar
And caught a splinter flying about. 

When I was laid upon the deck
I waited long but no help came;
The ship aflame and become a wreck,
A familiar voice called out my name;
It had become my long lost love,
With comfort and sweet names
Who held me in her arms and cried 
Then faded in the smoke and flames.   

Though I am old with voyaging,
Through endless seas to far off lands,
I wonder oft if she will wait
For my embrace, my anxious hands;
To join together in our home town
And share in love with me our fate,
The silver years as we grow old,
The golden years to Heaven’s gate.

Long lost love
Alan Lawrence
after W. B. Yeats
Song of Wandering Aengus

 

The Sun had set (ah, men of Greece, a Sunset for you!)
And the Moon was no more to be seen,
No more to be seen the clear Morning Star,
Nor the Star of Eve that shines in its place,
For these Four held council, and spoke in secret,
‘The Sun spins round and tells them, spins round and says
‘Last night when I set I hid myself behind a little rock,
And I heard the weeping of women, and the mourning of men
For those slain heroes lying in the field,
And all the earth soaked in their blood –
Poor souls all gone below in their country’s cause.

Yannis Makriyannis
Greek freedom fighter
1797-1864

 

The star that bids the shepherd fold,
now the top of heaven doth hold,
and the gilded car of day,
his glowing axle doth allay.
In the steep Atlantick stream,
and the slope sun his upward beam,
shoots against the dusky pole,
pacing toward the other goal
of his chamber in the east.
Meanwhile welcome joy and feast,
midnight shout, and revelry,
tipsie dance, and jollity.

Comus
John Milton

 

I’ve sweltered in the Sargasso, mired with ne’er a breeze,
Voyaged o’er all the oceans, crossed the Seven Seas;
Shivered in South Atlantic waters, fighting fear and chill,
‘midst towering bergs of ice; the memory lingers still;
I’ve sailed thru’hurricane and tempest, aboard the Dear Surprise,
Rushed in haste to quarters, when’er battle might arise;
In warm Greek waters, in the summer of ‘twenty-four,
The Turk came out to fight us, four score of sail and more;
The prodigious fleet o’the world before us had appeared,
Close-hauled and closing, so slowly they neared;

Fire! The order at last, the readied guns roared;
From abeam all ships, fiery flame and shot poured;
‘twas a long day we fought; firing shrapnel, grape and shell;
Carnage come upon us, the guns soon hot as hell;
Amidst the bloody fallen, the ship nigh on a wreck,
Men dying all about me, death stalked the deck;
The Turk raked by our broadside, at last he turned away; 
Wounded, I feared I would ne’er see the end o’that day;
My eyes fixed upon the red horizon, the setting sun a’fire,
The barky shipping water, her prospects fearfully dire;

Long hours I lay in blood, water the sole consolation;
Dozens with the surgeons, all in fear and consternation; 
To my maker, I was minded it was time to confess;
I strived for solace in sleep, before came welcome darkness;
I gazed at glowing heavens, lighting up the stormy night;
Marvelled at the skies, glorious infinity sparkling bright;
The full moon a friend above us, we struggled on for port;
Will we make it – grave uncertainty the constant thought;
And through all, I ne’er failed to thank the Good Lord above,
For bringing me safe home to Falmouth, the blessed place I love.

Making home
Alan Lawrence

 

Through many nations and many seas have I come;
To carry out these wretched funeral rites, brother;
That at last I may give you this final gift in death,
And that I might speak in vain to silent ashes,
Since fortune has borne you, yourself, away from me.
Oh, poor brother… snatched unfairly away from me;
Now, though, even these, which from antiquity and
in the custom of our parents, have been handed down,
a gift of sadness in the rites;
Accept them, flowing with many brotherly tears;
And for eternity, my brother, hail and farewell.

 Gaius Valerius Catullus
 84-54 BC

 

Christmas Eve, and home we go,
Our shipmates fine, now we know;
The barky’s fixed, all a-tanto,
Falmouth’s men all set to go;’

           Way oh, way oh,
           Her yards braced up,
           and what a blow;

Salt pork vittles, full stocks below,
Shot ‘n’powder, ready to stow;
Surprises all, every man we know,
Off to the ship, we’re set to row;’

           Way oh, way oh,
           Her sails all filled,
           and what a blow;

The wind set fair, and off we go,
Prizes sure, when we will crow;
Black Rock ahead, off the bow,
Back to sea, the tide a’flow;

           Way oh, way oh,
           Gale wind astern,
           and what a blow.   

Home we go!
Alan Lawrence 

 

It is New Year’s joyous eve,
Our thoughts are filled with affection;
A small stitch in time’s brief weave,
When we will pause for reflection;      

It is New Year’s genial eve,
All our hopes are rising anew;             
But for friends lost we grieve,
Those most precious of few;     

It is New Year’s festive eve,
The time of all times;
But we must take our leave,
After that clock chimes;

It is New Year’s hopeful eve,
So let us send joy and prayers,
Give thanks for all we receive,
Love for all those we have cares;

It is New Year’s thoughtful eve,
Before the next year arrives;
But before we do leave,
Think! It is the time of our lives.

New Year’s Eve           
Alan Lawrence 

 

Sweeter than the odours borne on southern gales,
Comes the clotted nectar of my native vales –
Crimped and golden crusted, rich beyond compare,
Food on which a goddess evermore would fare.
Burns may praise his haggis, Horace sing of wine,
Hunt his Hybla-honey, which he deem’d divine,
But in the Elysium’s of the poet’s dream
Where is the delicious without Cornish cream?

Edward Capern
“The rural postman of Bideford” 

 

I was born in Cornwall’s haven, steeped in wet salt air;
As a boy I roamed the coast, every day with ne’er a care;
I fished the pilchard grounds, my youth a marvellous trance;
As a dare I crossed the Channel, sailed over to far France;
Happiness and hot summers, long days spent with my brother;
I cherish those memories still, I thought they’d last for ever;

As a young man I plied the oceans, the winds ever a merry dance,
Whilst I served aboard the packet, striving for my chance;
Until pressed into a frigate, war a fright and thrill,
My brother lost to roaring guns, a bitter memory still;
Doubtless of great value are the blessings of the peace,
Boney gone at last, I was grateful for release;

My days afloat now but a memory, no longer any hope,
Not the least prospect of a ship, and all I do is mope;
Now too old to serve, I gaze across the chop and waves;
Sitting on the Falmouth quay, to sail again the dream I crave;
I cling to blessed recollections and will ever wonder: was I wise?
Until that final day comes at last when I will close my eyes.

The Tide of Life
Alan Lawrence

 

As wave is driven by wave
And each, pursued, pursues the wave ahead,
So time flies on and follows, flies and follows,
Always, for ever and new.
What was before is left behind;
What never was is now;
And every passing moment is renewed. 

 Ovid

 

Until when, brave warriors, shall we live under constraints,
Lonely like lions, in the ridges of mountains?
Living in caves, viewing wild tree branches,
Abandoning the world, due to bitter slavery?’
‘Losing brothers, country and parents,
Our friends, our children, and all of our kin?’
‘Better an hour of free life,
Than forty years of slavery and jail.

Rigas Feraios
Apostle of the Greek revolution

 

In the midwinter frosts when the seas broke o’er the bow,
On the barky sailed, ever fightin’ through the low;
Her deck canted over, her gun’ales deep within the froth,
Every man frozen to the bone, chilled in sodden cloth;

The gale growing stronger, her braces groanin’ with the strain,
Homeward bound, the deck a misery in the freezin’ rain;
The Dear Surprise making water, the ship a shattered mess;
The hurricane raging, hell approaching with the darkness;

The yards all struck down, waves everywhere raging white,
The last of daylight fading, despair coming with the night;
The bilge water ever rising, the boats all smashed away,
The sails long shredded, no hope left of seeing the new day;

Ever on we fought, until that fearful night was left behind,
The fears of all subsiding, hopes afresh astir in every mind;
And there in sight at last, distant off the larboard beam,
Blessed Falmouth town! For every man his precious dream.

The pumps a’workin’ hard, the Black Rock at last astern,
As we reached the Carrick Roads, the barky made her turn;
The hated wind gone at last, we brought her about,
From hundreds along the quay, came the welcome shouts.

At last our familiar King’s Road, no more the terror of the sea,
And so to the boats, every man pulling hard for the quay;
To the anxious arms of mothers, to families and dear friends,
Welcome tears of joy at last, the voyage at its blessed end.

 Winter Homecoming
 Alan Lawrence 

Time had slowed until seemingly stopped on that despairing October day dawn,
When the sun peeked over the distant Twelve Bens to the east on that bleak morn;
In the sparkling bright light, we gazed over towards distant Cleggan, our day’s destination;
Even the wild Atlantic had stilled its rage and temper, as if in kindly consolation;
The sea so placid, no swell of note, its rippling waters resembled the calmest of lake;
As if, in sympathy, it had graciously paused for breath, to share in the despondent wake.

An eerie silence, the wind a mere whispering gentle zephyr, to carry us all away;
No sign of its customary tempest, to blight our passage on this final, forlorn day;
The dogs, quieted, no longer barked; they too had sensed the momentous occasion;
The sad time had come to quit this, our cherished place within God’s great creation;
Barely a word spoken we walked the few hundred yards to the smashed stones of the pier,
To the rocky remnants of the furies of the Atlantic winter, our broken hearts filled with fear.

No funds for repair, said the uncaring government, and so you all must now leave;
We stared back to our twelve empty homes, desolate and forlorn, and bitterly we grieved;
Wisps of chimney smoke still issued from smouldering peat fires, sweetly aromatic in the air,
The familiar smells wafting to reach us, as if in farewell, the wind so still, the weather so fair;
We looked to our families, to our neighbours, for we were the final twenty-four;
Could we really not stay – for our beloved place was here – for just a few years more?

We shuffled on, one brown cat in an old black cooking pot, towards that daunting sea,
Clutching geese in sacks, hens in baskets, every mind in fear of what might be;
Scores of fowl held tight in boxes, stacks of hay clutched under arms, for our new road;
Every family with near nil possessions, all hearts in sorrow, burdened with the heavy load;
The dogs worked still to shepherd our five score sheep towards our new destiny to be,
Our own faces bewildered and apprehensive, for precious little of our future could we see.

What would befall us? Our community swept away as if by a brutal, breaking wave in time;
Never again would we hear the school children playing, or St Leo’s church bell chime;
The Cloonans, the Gavins, the Laceys and the Murrays, all the islanders together for one last walk;
Bleak uncertainty possessed us all, idle chatter jarred, but everyone strived to cheer us with talk;
Brief glances afforded back to the desolation of our village, salt tears flooded down every cheek;
We would soon be gone, away for evermore; it really was the final day of the very last week.

The bright sun burned down upon our heads, its rays sparkling silver on ripples of water;
A mother, who could not hold back her tears, was trying hard to explain to her daughter;
Here they come now! Our neighbours’ fishing smacks, from nearby Inishbofin isle;
St. John, St. Winifred, Topaz and Lilly; and we waited patiently as they crossed the short mile;
When the four dropped anchors, holding off from the remnants, the rubble, of the broken pier,
We strived to dispel anxiety, we boarded the boats, all stricken with churning, sickening fear.

The fishermen were reserved, friendly, but plainly they seemed taken aback in their sad task;
Holding back their own emotions, much distress for them too, their faces the feeblest of mask;
For hours in the warmth we struggled to coax our flock and stock aboard Noah’s new fleet;
Every minute our difficulties seemingly harder to bear, as the sheep continued to bleat;
Gazing back all the time, never again would we sit at our hearth, or breakfast at our own tables;
Until noon came at last; we were ready to depart, and the men of Bofin hauled up their cables.

Yet even now one man did not care to leave, and refused to board the boats;
’twas the spirits of his lost sons, he said, to be left behind, which tore at our throats;
It was old Thomas Lacey, seventy-three, and the elder of the isle, his mind made up;
He wished for one last evening at his table, at his hearth, and with his sons to sup;
Despite Father Flannery’s sincere efforts, he could not be persuaded to embark;
His passions were burning, his decision was made: to spend one last night on Shark.

And when that sun eventually began to dip into the water in fiery goodbye in the west,
Old Tom would light the fire in his house, where he had ever considered himself blessed;
For the last time he had set three places at his table, the door to be left open all night,
To await his sons, to say a final goodbye, to sit in silence until the dawn light;
Only then could he find that peace of mind, to leave them behind for ever;
Guardians of the empty village, their spirits at peace; but to meet again? Never.

The sun and the wind still graced us with warmth and calm; we were all aboard at last;
The anchors were hauled up, yet with only a breeze every boat’s sail hung limp at the mast;
Anxious faces all around, and many a glance back to that bleak grass sward and the heather,
Only Old Tom left behind; could this really be the last time that we were all together?
From the deck came the bleating, a chorus of squeals; even the sheep knew it was goodbye;
Away! We pulled on the oars, cheered just a little by a making tide and the deep blue sky.

The deck rocking, slowly we tacked towards our uncertain future, away to who knows where;
Old Mrs Cloonan was shouting farewell, her last goodbye offered with tears, and loud in the air;
A cold white splash flew over the bow – a cruel reminder – and we looked back once more;
In the boats, twenty-three shocked faces stared; were we really leaving? What was in store?
Our empty houses grew distant, yet their chimneys still smoked; it was a sight of utter desolation;
Old Mrs Murray was weeping, but she could hear nothing of her family’s words of consolation.

Slowly Shark was left far behind, and unhappy hours passed, until we approached the Cleggan pier;
The entire village was there, welcoming hands waving in the evening light, as the boats drew near;
With kind words and gentle care they helped us disembark, a firm hand for an arm here and there,
A kind embrace for those souls in distress, whilst we searched for hope to stem our rising despair;
With brave spirit we tried to keep our composure, our dignity; but – alas – such was not to be;
Emotions were on fire and tears flowed once more, as we scrambled ashore to stand on the quay.

And as the sun slipped away in blazing farewell, its orange rays bestowing a final goodbye,
We stood and watched, staring to where our homes were left behind, and all we could do was cry;
The radiant red orb slowly sank low, like our spirits, melting away with the coming of the night;
An ocean of memories, a sea of sadness; so oppressive as we looked back in the fading of the light;
Never again would we gaze in wonder, and marvel at the sunset, from our homes on dear Shark;
We had reached our new life now; darkness had settled upon us; all seemed so cold and so stark.

A distraught night of enduring doubts, not a wink of sleep found, until came exhaustion at the dawn,
In our dreams we struggled with memories of past times, of life on Shark, where we were all born;
But now we will live at Claddaghduff, in new bungalow homes, gifted by the state;
For such is cheaper than the pier repair, and so we must all be resigned to our fate;
With eight acres by that same sea, grazing rights, and a bog from which to cut peat;
But dear Shark will never be out of my mind; if only… I would go home in a single heartbeat.

FAREWELL TO INISHARK
 Alan Lawrence 

The island of Inishark, “Shark” to its residents, eight miles off the Connemara coast, was wholly evacuated in October 1960 after the recent drowning of two Lacey brothers (fishermen), and the death of a young man with appendicitis who could not be transported (by boat) to the mainland hospital because of the stormy sea state which had endured for days; and, with no telephone on the island, the islanders had no means of alerting medical help. The sea had also previously severely damaged the pier within the tiny and exposed harbour.

 

 

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