Featured Poem: The Old Ships by James Elroy Flecker

This weekend marks the 70th anniversary commemoration of the Battle of the Atlantic, paying tribute to those who were involved in the longest continuous military campaign in World War Two. Winston Churchill deemed the Battle of the Atlantic ‘the dominating factor all through the war’, influencing what happened on land and on sea, involving thousands of ships in a campaign lasting over five years. ‘Black May’ in 1943 was viewed as the turning point in the battle and over this Bank Holiday weekend, Liverpool is the national focal point for the commemorations.

Liverpool’s waterfront has been playing host to around a quarter of a million visitors over the last few days to celebrate the achievements of the men and women who were involved in the Battle. Since Thursday, fleets of warships have been arriving into Albert and Canning Docks, and the commemoration includes veteran parades, fly-overs, music, exhibitions and lots of events to engage people with this hugely significant historic event.

The last day of the 70th anniversary commemoration  is tomorrow, Tuesday 28th May – still time to get down to the Waterfront and be involved. For a full list of events and exhibitions related to the Battle of the Atlantic, see the It’s Liverpool website.

Keeping with the flavour of the weekend here around TRO HQ, here’s a sea-faring Featured Poem from James Elroy Flecker. One to think about when if you pass by the many ships in the docks…?

The Old Ships

I have seen old ships sail like swans asleep
Beyond the village which men still call Tyre,
With leaden age o’ercargoed, dipping deep
For Famagusta and the hidden sun
That rings black Cyprus with a lake of fire;
And all those ships were certainly so old—
Who knows how oft with squat and noisy gun,
Questing brown slaves or Syrian oranges,
The pirate Genoese
Hell-raked them till they rolled
Blood, water, fruit and corpses up the hold.
But now through friendly seas they softly run,
Painted the mid-sea blue or shore-sea green,
Still patterned with the vine and grapes in gold.

But I have seen,
Pointing her shapely shadows from the dawn
And image tumbled on a rose-swept bay,
A drowsy ship of some yet older day;
And, wonder’s breath indrawn,
Thought I—who knows—who knows—but in that same
(Fished up beyond Aeaea, patched up new
—Stern painted brighter blue—)
That talkative, bald-headed seaman came
(Twelve patient comrades sweating at the oar)
From Troy’s doom-crimson shore,
And with great lies about his wooden horse
Set the crew laughing, and forgot his course.

It was so old a ship—who knows, who knows?
—And yet so beautiful, I watched in vain
To see the mast burst open with a rose,
And the whole deck put on its leaves again.

James Elroy Flecker

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