Hi. You're at my blog where we mess with poetry. It's about what I know - life at sea, family, work, the searching, people and the sometimes quirky side to existance. Also study of those who have influenced me - Australians - Slessor, Bruce Dawe, Robert Gray, Lehman, and others - Robert Service, John Masefield, Elizabeth Bishop, Auden, Kipling, William Carlos Williams, Bukowski. Hey, so welcome and just drift.
Sunday, 17 February 2013
W. S. Gilbert - sailors, the sea and light verse
post has kept me in a mood for sharing tales about the sea served up with a wry
twist of pusser’s humour.For my
influence I turn to William S. Gilbert (of Gilbert
& Sullivan fame), who, many years ago wrote collections of light verse that
were published as the ‘Bab Ballads’ – that was before he and Sullivan teamed up
to produce those wonderful musicals, Pirates
of Penzance, HMS Pinafore, Mikado
– the rest is history.I’ve got an
undated copy of Bab Ballads (Routledge;
Morrison & Gibb printers), and I’m always on the look-out for a better
edition.Gilbert was not a naval or
military man, but you can tell by his dealing with verse about ships and
sailors that he’s not totally un-familiar with the services – perhaps his
influence came from his father who was a Naval Surgeon, and also a writer.One of Gilbert’s better known ballads from
the collection is, The Yarn of the Nancy
Bell.The rhythm gets you in – a
rollicking five to four beats like a lively sailor’s jig….
The Yarn of the ‘Nancy Bell’
(W. S. Gilbert 1836 - 1911)
‘Twas on the shores that round our
From Deal to Ramsgate span,
That I found alone on a piece of
An elderly naval man.
His hair was weedy, his beard was
And weedy and long was he,
And I heard this wight on the shore
In a singular minor key:
“Oh, I am a cook and a captain bold,
And the mate of the Nancy
And a bo’sun tight, and a
And the crew of the captain’s gig”
And he shook his fists and he tore
Till I really felt afraid,
For I couldn’t help thinking the man
And so I simply said:
“Oh, elderly man, it’s little I know
Of the duties of men of the sea,
And I’ll eat my hand if I understand
However you can be
“At once a cook, and a captain bold,
And the mate of the Nancy brig,
And a bo’sun tight, and a
And the crew of the captain’s gig.”
Then he gave a hitch to his
Is a trick all seamen larn,
And having got rid of a thumping
He spun his painful yarn:
“Twas in the good ship Nancy Bell
That we sailed to the IndianSea,
And there on a reef we come to
Which has often occurred to me.
“And pretty nigh all the crew was
(There was seventy-seven o’ soul),
And only ten of the Nancy’s men
Said ‘Here!’ to the muster roll.
“There was me and the cook and the
And the mate of the Nancy
And the bo’sun tight, and a
And the crew of the captain’s gig.
“For a month we’d neither vittles
Till a-hungry we did feel,
So we drawed a lot, and, accordin
The captain for our meal.
“The next lot fell to the Nancy’s mate,
And a delicate dish he made;
Then our appetite with the
We seven survivors stayed ……….
............ There are another eleven verses to The
Yarn of the Nancy Bell – I won’t include them here, so you’re going to have
to get yourself a copy of ‘Bab Ballads’ to find out what happens.I find myself often going back to the Bab
Ballads to study metre – all of the ballads are strong.I believe Gilbert wrote his verse with the
intention of it being read out loud (thus the transition of his work into
theatre and musicals).In fact, at the
time of the Bab Ballads people would recite them at parties and
gatherings.I like a poem you can recite.But, then again, I like a poem you can read.There’s a difference between reciting a poem
out loud and reading a poem aloud.A
poem for recitation does need to have good metre; a poem with emotive depth is
good when read aloud.Is that the
difference between poetry and verse?That
probably accounts for why Gilbert has qualified his Bab Ballads by
stating underneath the title, “Much Sound and Little Sense”.
‘Much sound and little sense’ is a
good lead in to my poem, The Day the Balloon went up.I’m grateful to light verse poets like
William Gilbert that I’m able to take some of the mad-cap memories from my Navy
days and preserve and share them in written verse ………..
2009.Sailors love to tell a
yarn-‘spin a dit’.Sometimes they are
true, sometimes they are variations of the truth.In most cases, the ingredients for the recipe
can be trusted-an ambitious First Lieutenant, a bunch of
nervous boffins, a thick-head with a rifle and an upper-deck crowded with goofers.
The Day the Balloon went Up
At sea one day on our ship of
The Jimmy made a blunder,
The Bosun’s Mate became irate,
And the Skipper roared like
began when the RAN,
science team for a dawdle,
instruments new, and costly too,
beneath a big red bauble.
tossed in the air with professional care,
ball was over rated,
sank to the sea, immediately,
it wallowed half deflated.
scientists, wrung their wrists,
tell their boss and master,
the Skipper parked above the mark,
said, ‘put a swimmer in the water’.
sight to see, the big AB,
out for fame and glory,
heaving line tied to his spine,
have been the end of the story.
Jimmy paced, up and down the waist,
was in charge of the order,
very keen, to be the one seen,
threats of bloody murder.
is the norm when swimmers form,
lookout stands with a rifle,
to get any likely threat
shark or deep sea turtle.
day, with regret to say,
lookout’s name was Potter,
shot but not a lot,
his ears to hold grey matter.
stands in a doze, a classic pose,
Morrow’s younger brother,
on the hip with the safety trip,
mind’s in some place other.
sort of stance to earn romance,
the Jimmy spots a danger,
bloody big snake about to make,
mark upon his swimmer.
Jimmy calls to the lookout stall,
voice made of barbed wire,
snakes been seen on the starboard beam,
hundred yards, on my command, fire!’
passes by as every eye,
fixed on a spot out yonder,
a shot from good old Potts,
will save our brave young swimmer.
ship it lolls in a gentle roll,
nothing from the lookout station,
Jimmy looks away to find the delay,
beaten by explanation.
the Jimmy saw made his tonsils roar,
lookout deep in slumber,
on his heel and gave a squeal,
man there, I want his bloody number!’
sets in and the Jimmy begins,
his calm composure,
the bloody snake! the nake! the snake! Get the snake!
idiot, up on the bridge enclosure!’
awake, Potter sights the snake,
the rifle at his shoulder,
the snake is dead with a shot to it’s head,
Potter, he lives to be one year older.
it’s the scientists pack
the Jimmy once more resumes,
the clamour, he yells to the swimmer,
the balloon! the balloon! Get the bloody balloon!
a rifle cracks a bullet smacks,
everyone turns towards Potter,
quickly back to the scientist’s pack,
it’s sitting now at the bottom of the sea, and is flatter.