Poem 64

I never signed on for this voyage, I was shanghaied.
When I awoke we were sailing out on the spring tide.

It’s eight on and four off and smart to it at the bosun’s whistle,
And the grub is weevilled biscuits and meat all grease and gristle.

When I complained, the captain said: You’re on for the round trip;
Like it or lump it — this is a trader, not a tourist ship.

But you’ll get paid fairly at the end of the voyage,
And in gold, not by check — so see it out with courage.

Now we’ve rounded the Horn with its storms and are becalmed on a sea of oil:
But at night you can almost pick the white flowers growing from the sky’s dark soil.

Maybe when we come to the Singing Islands we’ll be allowed ashore.
Maybe the captain wants to lose half his hands and have to shanghai more!

The star-flowers comfort me, they and the sailors’ Homeland songs
Which are sung from one heart, though in a dozen different tongues.

No luxury cruise ship for this mariner. In high spirits Francis pursues his analogy with gusto and with plenty of realistic historical detail. In doing this he makes some telling points. We have no choice about embarking on this voyage and we are not here for enjoyment, no mere passengers here, we have to pay our way. As well we have signed on for the round trip, homeward bound, no other final destination. And no bogus promissory cheques here, we get paid in incorruptible gold.

Storms and danger alternate with becalmings under wonderful night skies, whose beauty is conveyed in the metaphor of white flowers. Those tropical islands are traps like the heavens of the planes, but at least may give a chance for new sailors to replace those who are ready to desert to temptation.

Hardship yes, but beauty too as people from many lands sing the same visions of Home. Under all multiplicity lies the same reality of heart.

‘Spring tide’ is of course the spring tide of creation. ‘Homeland songs are also songs which celebrate our voyage has a goal of home.