In Competition No. 3243, you were invited to submit a poem about the recent discovery of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Endurance.
This comp, suggested by a kind reader who thought a chink of good cheer amid the general bleakness worth celebrating, elicited a smallish entry in which echoes ranged from Keats to Benny Hill. An honourable mention to David Silverman’s haiku:
Fuss over a boat
Goes to show the importance
Of being Ernest
The winners, printed below, net their authors £25 each.
Chill polar sirens wooed
Ernest H. Shackleton,
Singing him southward with
Ice trapped and sank him, then
Deep undersea helped his
Ship to endure.
Weddell Sea life forms are
Vessels of wood are a
Snack they abjure.
Far from a warmer sea’s
Shackleton sank where his
Ship could endure.
Two thousand fathoms deep Endurance lies
at rest upon the Weddell Sea’s soft bed,
and, though abandoned, finds a different guise,
suff’ring a sea-change once her crew had fled.
The hull survives, and nothing of her fades –
with creatures of the depths she lives again,
a crew of sea-stars, sponges, now invades
the empty space once occupied by men.
Anemones upon the starboard bow,
another takes its place behind the wheel,
a ghostly-white ‘squat’ lobster claims the prow
and colonies of sea-squirts clutch the keel.
Now, undisturbed, the ship rests in the deep
While, rich and strange, these creatures guard her sleep.
That ship was filmed in nineteen-fifteen, when
It sank below the ice. And then again
Cameras were on hand when it was found.
The ship’s crew had escaped. No one was drowned
When it went down beneath the Weddell Sea,
To lie there for more than a century,
But other young men died that very day
In Flanders, more than half a world away.
The crew, the soldiers, all of them are gone.
We check the dates, remember Shackleton
From the Boys’ Book of Heroes long ago,
And seek on maps places we do not know.
Near the ship swims a creature. We are told
It’s a squat lobster. Squatting in the cold
Right by the ship’s name makes a metaphor
For men’s endurance both in peace and war.
Under a lullaby of ice,
By the currents shifted, shuttled –
A strange idea of paradise,
Where the blizzard does not reach,
Timbers shivered, hardly weathered –
Still and silent, but a speech
None are left who rigged its sails,
Or who watched it drown, half-blinking:
None thought to find its stern, its rails
Urchins, squirts and brittlestars
Hold court there, unabated:
They too endure, their repertoires
Ernie was only forty-seven, he didn’t want to die
but he’s plodding after Nansen
where the Empire meets the sky.
His countrymen ignored him
in their craze for Captain Scott,
and James Caird to South Georgia
was a tale that time forgot.
But a nation’s taste in heroes
is fickle as the sea,
so they sent a yellow robot
to pinpoint his crushed debris.
Is that two sperm whales mating
in Antarctic paradise,
or Ernie’s ship Enduranceasleep below the ice?
She won’t forget old Ernie! (Ernie!)
And he drove the toughest steam-yacht in the south.
So all day long the noise of searching filled
The icy mountains of the winter sea
Until Sir Ernest’s ship at last was seen
And on her stern ENDURANCE proudly gleamed.
When naval crew and archaeologists
Observed the wreck that for a hundred years
Slept peacefully beneath the Weddell Sea
Their eyes were dazzled as they saw the ship
Intact, undaunted as the day she sank.
And when they glimpsed the shining five-point star,
Polaris, the great vessel’s primal name,
Their hearts enjoyed the happiness of pride.
Though years had darkened round him now it seemed
That Shackleton had shuffled out of death
To greet the gallants who had found his ship.
No. 3246: let’s get physical
Nicola Shulman wrote a piece in this magazine about Philip Larkin’s penis. You are invited to submit a poem in the style of the poet of your choice (please specify) about a problematic appendage. Please email entries of up to 16 lines to firstname.lastname@example.org by midday on 20 April.
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