A brief look at rhymes and verse
in the archival collections of San Francisco Maritime NHP
by Gina Bardi, Reference Librarian
National Arts and Humanities Month is a very good excuse to comb through our extensive historical document collections and see what we may find in the way of poems and verse. Contrary to the stereotype of sailors as dull or brutish, many who sailed both fore and aft the mast were thoughtful people engaged with the natural world and how it determined their fate. After all, things both above and below the ocean had direct influence on their livelihood and indeed their lives. Long stretches at sea gave one time to contemplate and contemplation often gives way to inspiration. It's no wonder that our collections contain many works of a poetic nature which attempt to describe a sailor's connection to the sea, their ship and their shipmates.
Probably the most prolific poet in our collection is Captain Roy Moyes (HDC 235 SAFR 17110
). Captain Moyes was born in Grafton, Australia in 1885. At the age of 14, he left his home to become an apprentice on a ship. Reading his poem "Becalmed" gives a sense of the connection sailors have to their immediate environment and how it can lead the way to introspection. There is more to this poem than being becalmed at sea.
Only the sea, motionless in calm
Only the hope of a stirring breeze;
There's naught, but the depth's alluring charm,
Rippling reflections in placid seas--
Only the sails and the dawning sun.
Only the loss of the foaming run.
Yet, deep in the soul the sea reflects
In the light of questing, seeking thoughts
The cause of its wonderful objects
The gale, the calm, the loneliness wrought.
All is still; there is no when, or how--
Only the presence of the now.
The day drifts on, and at evening fall
Golden painted clouds drift idly by:
The sea lies still; and over it all
The awe of silence reigns far and nigh.
Patient we must be, whole darkness hides
The ship and our fate on the still tides.
Moyes eventually worked his way up to captain, working on both sail and steamships. He was the captain of our very own Balclutha
, when she was called the Pacific Queen. His love for his time spent on her is evident in this piece called, "Balclutha : the old ship (Pacific Queen):"