March 25, 2011

Poetry Friday--The Little Ships

Maybe you saw the news clips last weekend of the Japanese firemen who volunteered to direct water cannons at the critically overheated nuclear power plant reactors? They ceremoniously took an oath and got into their trucks, the reality being, many of them will suffer physical harm, and perhaps, a painful death, as a result of their actions.

With that in mind, I'd like to share this old poem written by Hilton Brown. It appears in several anthologies, and was originally published in Punch and reprinted in a weekly literary magazine, The Living Age, in 1916.

"The small steamer...struck a mine
yesterday and sank. The crew perished."
                                                                  Daily Paper.

Who to the deep in ships go down
      Great marvels do behold,
But comes the day when some must drown
      In the gray sea and cold.
For galleons lost great bells do toll,
      But now must we implore
God's ear for sunken Little Ships
      Who are not heard of more.

When ships of war put out to sea
      They go with guns and mail,
That so the chance may equal be
      Should foemen them assail;
But Little Ships men's errands run
      And are not clad for strife;
God's mercy then on Little Ships
      Who cannot fight for life.

To warm and cure, to clothe and feed
      They stoutly put to sea,
And since that men of them had need
      Made light of jeopardy;
Each in her hour her fate did meet
      Nor flinched nor made outcry;
God's love be with these Little Ships
      Who could not choose but die.

To friar and nun, and every one
      Who lives to save and tend,
Sisters were these whose work is done
      And cometh thus to end;
Full well they know what risk they ran
      But still were strong to give;
God's grace for all the Little Ships
      Who died that men might live.


Normally a poem like this would strike me as a bit overwrought, but not this week.

Join Mary Lee at A Year of Reading for the Poetry Friday Round-Up.