Wednesday, 9 January 2019

‘He thought of the noise of the wind in the shrouds…’ by Julia Jones


And old Peter Duck looked down at her from the top of the quay and wished he was going too. 'Going foreign she is, to blue water,’ he said to himself. And he thought of other little schooners he had known, on the Newfoundland Banks and in the South Seas. He thought of flying fish and porpoises racing each other and turning over in the waves. He thought of the noise of the wind in the shrouds, and the glow of the lamp on a moving compass card, and tall winds swaying across the stars at night. And he wished he could go to sea once more and make another voyage before it was too late.

I don’t think it’s possible to read this passage (from chapter one of Arthur Ransome’s Peter Duck) without a sense of longing. I’d like you to read it at my funeral, should you happen to be there. We printed it as the frontispiece for my mother’s service sheet, together with a photo of her climbing up the jetty at Eversons in Woodbridge in about 1947. 



The cruellest thing I ever did to Mum was to bring her inland. For many good reasons of course, just as Arthur Ransome’s character ‘Peter Duck’ has settled, apparently contentedly, on the inland waters of the Norfolk Broads, visiting his three daughters whenever the breeze sets fair in their direction, but privately compelled to come and sit on a bollard in Lowestoft Inner Harbour 'to look at the boats and the fishermen and to smell the fresh wind blowing in from the sea’.

Carl Herman Sehmel, Arthur Ransome's original 'Peter Duck'
Once Mum was stranded in agricultural Essex I had to stop reading her John Masefield’s Sea Fever -- it was too painful. We cheered ourselves with Wordsworth's daffodils and shivered at Walter de la Mare’s The Listeners which she loved both for the traveller’s horse and the reliability of the traveller himself, ‘“Tell them I came and no one answered / That I kept my word,” he said’.
As music lasts longer than speech so poetry outlives prose. Try this with scansion and line endings and the secret of its power becomes clearer:

And old Peter Duck looked down at her from the top of the quay
And wished he was going too.
‘Going foreign she is, to blue water,’ he said to himself.
And he thought of other little schooners he had known,
On the Newfoundland Banks and in the South Seas.
He thought of flying fish and porpoises
Racing each other and turning over in the waves.
He thought of the noise of the wind in the shrouds,
And the glow of the lamp on a moving compass card,
And tall winds swaying across the stars at night.
And he wished he could go to sea once more
And make another voyage before it was too late.


On the morning of Mum's death my brother, Nick, who insists (believably) that he never opens a book from one year’s end to the next and scarcely looks at a newspaper, went immediately to her bookshelf and turned to a poem. 

Iken Church
From the river’s edge
The sunlit tower invites you
To a pilgrimage.

Larks rise to meet you.
Round the tower in flint and stone
Saints wait to greet you.

 His single poem became two more when he looked a little longer in the slim, privately published book Wave Watch written by a family friend, Dr Ian Tait. 

The Need to Let Go
Today the waves are leaden,
Surprised by their own weight.
They lift themselves
For one last time
And collapse on the beach.

After so much travel, for ever
Holding themselves in shape
In all kinds of weather,
Their only thought
The need to let go. 

The Gulls
Orford disappears.
The sky sits down on the river’s edge
And sheens the tide-laid mud.
Sheep graze the river wall,
And little terns catch the eye
As they plummet into water.
I am sailing down river
On the last of the ebb
And the sea is waiting.


So, Nick and his children read Ian Tait's poems in the service and Claudia Myatt followed them with her lovely ‘June’sSong’. Francis recited a psalm, from memory, confirming it as poetry (or song). There were more words and hymns: a solitary flautist and the ever-evocative organ.

But when Nick and I took Mum’s body to the crematorium – just the two of us (our other brother Ned was unavoidably away) – we had no music, only poems and a prayer. The final poem I read to her before the curtains closed across the catafalque, the poem that had lasted longest in her life, almost to the end, was Edward Lear's The Owl and the Pussycat 

The voyage was over, the wind in the shrouds had stilled


And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand, 
   They danced by the light of the moon, 
             The moon, 
             The moon, 
They danced by the light of the moon.


Peter Duck off Everson's jetty





10 comments:

Susan Price said...

Beautiful, Julia. Thank you.

Sandra Horn said...

Heartfelt thanks to you, dear Julia, for sharing this with us. It is indeed beautiful. Holding you in my thoughts now and in the days to come.

Jan Needle said...

Thank you. And much love.

Enid Richemont said...

Beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

Kathleen Jones said...

So moving and beautiful Julia. I'm always amazed by the power of poetry to express what can't otherwise be said.

Bill Kirton said...

Your blogs always have such an effect on me, Julia. I share your affair with all things sea-connected but you inject so much more, so many other associations and memories into them that their impact goes so much deeper, into areas about what it's like just to be.
Thanks again for depriving me of words adequate to express the effect you have.

Dipika Mukherjee said...

Thank you , Julia.

A. Morgan said...

Wonderful and moving.

Umberto Tosi said...

Beautiful and exquisitely evocative prose and poetry! You draw me out to magical seas. Like Peter Duck, I am compelled to sit near the water on our nearby beach and watch the boats and swimmers, weather permitting, and always the gulls. Lake Michigan is not the sea, but it seems so viewed from its shores, taking in a vast watery horizon, sometimes as stormy as any ocean. I always lived near the ocean - Atlantic, then Pacific. This is the farthest inland I've lived, and I demand never to be removed from its Great Lake waters unless it is back to an oceanic coast.

Bronwen Griffiths said...

Thank you. This is lovely.