Thursday, June 7, 2007

The Shipwreck by William Falconer

The Shipwreck

Oh were it mine with sacred Maro's art
To wake to sympathy the feeling heart,
Then might I, with unrivaled strains deplore
Th' impervious horrors of a leeward shore.
--Patrick O'Brian's Mr. Mowett

Oh, were it mine with sacred Maro's art,
To wake to sympathy the feeling heart;
Like him, the smooth and mournful verse to dress
In all the pomp of exquisite distress;
Then, too severely taught by cruel fate,
To share in all the perils I relate,
Then might I, with unrivall'd strains, deplore
The impervious horrors of a leeward shore.
--William Falconer

I always suspected that Patrick O'Brian was quoting actual published poetry rather than writing his own. I find nothing wrong with that. There's no way I would have read the whole of that Shipwreck poem (which goes on forever) to find that little gem. I do wonder, however, whether he sites his sources anywhere. I never read them in print, so I don't know whether there's any sort of index or specific acknowledgements.

I found this one, by the way, in a Google Books Result which not only showed me that it was in The Ionian Mission, but also showed me the page, so I could transcribe those lines. Pretty cool, eh?


  1. I think a summary is:
    "if I were a decent poet, then I could write poetry deploring the leeward horrors of an impervious shore. "Er, switch that. So, what are the leeward, impervious shorebound horrors?

  2. Doug,
    There are several ways of indicating directions on a boat. Port (or larboard) and starboard indicate left and right when looking forward. Fore and aft are front and back. There are the cardinal directions (north south, east west). And then there's the way the wind is blowing. The direction the wind is coming from is windward, and the direction it's blowing to is leeward (remember the lee of the stone from Secret of Nimh? it's the side sheltered from the wind and tractor because the wind blows from te other side). Anyway, a sailing ship can't travel directly into the wind, obviously. It can sail across the wind, and make a diagonal line that will, on successive tacks (zig zags) let it work to windward, but it will lose some of that windward distance as it drifts in the water (that's called leeway). If, directly to your lee, on a stormy night with low visibility, you suddenly find a coastline full of sharp rocks, and if that coastline is perhaps a little bit curved, or you have a headland, you may not have enough time or searoom to work to windward before your leeway causes the ship to be thrown up onto the rocks. You could work very hard for several hours before it happens, but unless the wind shifts, your ship will be wrecked, your cargo and livelihood will be lost, and many of your closst friends (and maybe even you) will die, and there is nothing you can do about it. Those are the impervious horrors of a leeward shore.

  3. Well done, Karen.