Poetry and Pictures from Tyneside by Alan Hartley

tyne poetry headerPhotograph ©Carol Haynes.

Off Valparaiso

N01773 10Thomas J. Somerscales (1842–1927), Off Valparaiso, 1899
© Tate, Image released under Creative Commons
CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)
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Sun shimmers on the swell off Valparaiso.
Salt crystals glint upon the drying deck,
That dips and rolls with every pirouette
The great bow makes into the foam flecked green.
The helmsman swings her into a fair wind,
And men, riding the motion of the ship,
Fly on bare, calloused feet across bleached plank
To swing up through rope rigging to the yards,
Where hardened fingers clutch at flapping sail,
And crack of canvas catching the wind's swirl,
Drowns the gulls' cry and shouts of men below.

All this I hear, smell, see from long ago.
Now old bones groan, shackled in time's dark hold;
Yet when I sense the sun across my face,
And feel the deck move under where I lie,
My spirits climb to join seafaring men
Up in the highest yards, where pitch and roll
Swing us together, as we stood before,
Strung out along a spar where we would ride
The sharp salt air, like soaring frigate birds,
And laugh into the bluest sky you've seen.
There in a cherished dream, off Valparaiso.

It used to be said that there was a Geordie on every ship afloat. Sadly, this is no longer true but as boys my brother and I were both determined to go to sea; he did, I stayed ashore. This (and the following poem "Seafarer"), concerning a love of the sea, were written in memory of my brother Fred who died of cancer aged only 57 years.

To the end, he loved tales and talk of the sea and in these poems I have tried to speak with his voice.