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(12th March 1955 / Victoria, Gozo)

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A Barge Mysterious In The Thick Of Night

A barge mysterious in the thick of night
Sailed slowly to the somber shore
Beneath the ramparts of the dreaming fort
How silent how austere how still
The lapping of the waves against the barge.

Whence is the barge coming in the night?
Whence did its journey start?
By night or day?

No reply came – and none in that still barge
Appeared to reply or move or breathe:
So horrid thin the stillness in the barge
The barge mysterious in the thick of night.

Anon near the shore it stopped awhile
And there without a pilot stood, without a hope
Of towing to the shore though near stood:
Slow imperceptible moved it with the waves
That danced in the dim lights of the old fort
That drowsed and drowsed ignored
The lapping of the waves against the barge.

And then of sudden lo! It moved as if
Sprung by some unwound spring or else
Like a thing startled at its guilt
At seeing the hiding draperies of the night
Slip slowly down before the toll of dawn
The barge mysterious in the thick of night
Sailed all invisible to another land
Where night still holds its scepter sway
And eerie bats their piercing cries emit.

Ay, ay that slow mysterious barge
Is into the long night so far away
Gone, gone from the eyes gone from the dawn
From good and virtue called it moved and went
To where the evil witches danced the night
In hidden lands by human eyes unseen.

And good and virtue and evil and all – are relative.

Submitted: Monday, October 03, 2011
Edited: Saturday, March 08, 2014

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Comments about this poem (A cherished song this night by Emmanuel George Cefai )

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  • Daniel Brick (2/28/2014 8:34:00 AM)

    Dear Emmanuel, I have tried twice this morning to send you my enthusiastic comment on this poem, but both times the verification codes failed to process it. I am (unfortunately) going to reduce my commentary and try again. The word that best describes the impact of A BARGE MYSTERIOUS on me is - gravitas. The language throughout is objective and heightened; it does not express sympathy or even sentiment. The stillness I feel around me when reading it is almost frightful, because I am all too human and the poem's perspective is Olympian. I'm reminded of other cursed wanderers like the Flying Dutchman who can find neither rest nor sanctuary because of some offense that has not been forgiven. If that is the case here, the life of those in the barge is a purgatorial existence until someone or something lifts the curse. However, I have another reaction to the poem. It is not about an individual's guilt or even collective guilt, like the concept of Original Sin. The barge represents the destiny of humanity, squeezed between fate and chance, with little space available to exercise our limited freedom. This is my darkest interpretation of your poem because there would be NO EXIT from such a destiny. At least, purgatory has a end eventually. It is the sheer power of your imagery that makes me consider such an extreme point of view. I only hope there is a character like the hero Heracles or the loving woman Senta (Wagner's Flying Dutchman) who can release those trapped in A BARGE MYSTERIOUS IN THE THICK OF NIGHT.

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