The Ship of Fools

(1577)

We are those fools who could not rest
In the dull earth we left behind,
But burned with passion for the West
And drank a frenzy from its wind;
The world where small men live at ease
Fades from our unregretful eyes,
And blind across uncharted seas
We stagger on our enterprise.

Starboard and port, the lean waves leap
Like white-fanged wolves about our prow,
Where Mary with her Christ asleep
Is carved to hear the wanderer’s vow.
The thirsty decks have drunk our blood,
Our hands are tettered from the oar;
Wan ghosts upon a spectral flood
We drive towards a phantom shore.

And we have sailed in haunted seas
Dreadful with voices, where the mast
Gleamed blue with deathlights, and the breeze
Bore madness, and have stared aghast
To see beyond our splintered spars
That rattled in the shrill typhoon,
A heaven strange with tawny stars
And monstrous with an alien moon.

Lean, naked, bruised, like famished slaves,
We shiver at the sweeps; each one
A jest for all the scornful waves,
And food for laughter to the sun.
But never voice, not deathlight flare
Nor moon shall stay us with their spell,
Whose eyes are calm as God, and stare
Confusion in the face of Hell.

The worn ship reels, but still unfurled
Our tattered ensign flouts the skies;
And doomed to watch a prudent world
Of little men grown mean and wise,
The old sea laughs for joy to find
One purple folly left to her,
When glimmers down the riotous wind
The flag of the adventurer!

O watchman leaning from the mast,
What of the night? The shadows flee;
The stars grow pale, the storm is past;
The blood-red sunrise stains the sea.
At length, at length, O steadfast wills,
Luck takes the tiller and foul tides turn;
Superb amid majestic hills
The domes of Eldorado burn!

— The Ship of Fools by St. John Lucas

About Ernest Shackleton

Polar Explorer. Leader of the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, 1914-1917.
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