David Lewis Paget
The Dutchman's Mast - Poem by David Lewis Paget
In the aftermath of a terrible storm
That stripped all the trees of leaves,
I ventured out when the sun was warm
To check on the roof and eaves,
We’d taken a battering, windows out
And shutters were shattered and lay
All over the floor, what shocked me more
Was what lay out in the Bay.
Our beautiful bay with its azure depths
Had stretched way out to the sky,
Had linked it to the horizon blue
Like a tint from another dye,
But now the smudge of an island lay
Not fifty yards from the shore,
With the wreck of some ancient buildings there
Thrust up from the Devil’s maw.
It must have been a volcanic ridge
That had sunk in the distant past,
And lying beside the wreck of a bridge
The remains of a Dutchman’s mast,
The ship was wedged by a roofless wall
And was half filled up with silt,
While scattered across the floor of a hall
The glitter of something gilt.
I called Marie, ‘You should come and see! ’
But I must have seemed distressed,
‘You won’t believe what the sea’s retrieved! ’
She called, ‘I’m getting dressed! ’
I’d pushed the dinghy into the sea
Before she could join me there,
With a flushing cheek that had been asleep
And a comb in her bright red hair.
We rowed on out to the island, we’re
The only ones on the coast,
‘At least we’re getting to see it first, ’
Was the one thing I could boast,
We pulled the dinghy up on the land
And made the painter fast,
Then walked toward the glittering floor
That lay by the Dutchman’s mast.
‘I think that they must be guilders, ’ said
Marie, and her hands had shook,
‘The heads are all of William Three,
They were pictured in some book.’
I said, ‘Let’s go and explore her then, ’
And I pointed to the ship,
But she was filling the leather bag
That she carried high on her hip.
‘There may be treasure and precious stones
As well as the guilders here,
This is the chance we’ve waited for,
We’re going to be rich, my dear! ’
We walked on up where the silt was high
And found ourselves on the deck,
The timbers under us creaked and groaned
As we searched the ancient wreck.
We fell in the Captain’s cabin through
The planks of a rotten floor,
And there was a sight to sadden, he
Still sat by the cabin door,
His clothes had rotted around his bones
His head was down on his hands,
A quill was still in his bony claw
But the book had turned to sand.
I saw Marie had a tearful eye
And I said, ‘What grieves you girl?
He had his day, and he’s well away,
His was a different world.’
But she sank down on her knees by him
And clutched at his tattered sleeve,
‘I knew that I’d seen this ship before
But didn’t have time to grieve! ’
And then she fell in a trance, and knelt
As if to deliver a prayer,
Started to babble in Dutch, I think
As if I wasn’t there.
The timbers creaked and a sudden groan
Had filled that cabin space,
The sound had come from the naked bone
That was once the Captain’s face.
I turned, and dashed from the cabin
Climbed a stair that led to the deck,
Jumped on over the side, I had
To get away from the wreck,
I thought that Marie was behind me
As the island began to sink,
And jumped on into the dinghy,
Before I had time to think.
The sea rushed over the island as
It sank back down to the deep,
I call Marie in my nightmares on
The few occasions I sleep.
The island, guilders, buildings all
Sank down again at the last,
And the final thing that I saw out there
Was the tip of the Dutchman’s mast.
11 December 2013
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