The sailor harnesses the wayward winds
To strike out to the deep and catch the West.
A tiresome life of shifts, the sailor’s test,
The wooden world does tie the men as kin.
A world apart, the service and its duty.
The daily scrubbing with the holy stone,
Alert to quarter deck’s call, then up wind-blown
Rigging to set tops’ls all in their beauty.
The ship’s routine, a perfect dance performed,
They run to Neptune’s realm through foam and spray 10
That spatters hawse and bow to seize the trades,
And day by day both sea and wind are warmed.
But fickle wind then fails. Stalled in dead sea,
The doldrums seize the ship. Days wax and wane.
While sun bleaches the sails all set in vain,
Capricious wind ignores the sailor’s plea.
At last the earth exhales its sweet, sweet breath
And grasping royals now begin to fill,
Then speeding toward the Cape, the captain’s will.
South, south away, away from mortal death. 20
Back, back homeward, routine again they sweat.
Decks holystoned, hammocks piped up. At noon
Position made, all hands to dinner soon.
Drummed orders, hammocks down, the watch is set.
A sail on dawn’s horizon. The command
Is ‘Beat to quarters’. Gun crews clear the decks
For action, lest the bulkheads, hammocks vex
The crews, their guns run out, slow match at hand.
And now the men alow are at the ready.
Aloft they tack into the wind to cross 30
The prize’s path. But their hope turns to dross,
The friendly signals shown, its course keeps steady.
The trades are strong. Wind on the beam they race
Toward home. But, sailor’s dread, a gale now drives
The ship headlong. It drifts to lee, no grace
Grants the high cliff. The men yet strive
But she founders. All hands gone with no trace
Down to the bitter depths, a deadly dive.
The sailor’s labor, sweat, and toil erased,
No mem’ry of the sailors now survive. 40
meter: iambic pentameter
form: expanded Petrarchan sonnet with varied rhyme scheme