Titanic seems to go on inspiring poetry, and my blog feature seems to have brought more poems out of the icy sea of its memory. Angi Holden sent me these two poems as a result of exploring some stories not usually told.
This Strange Quivering
for Elizabeth Shutes, governess.
At first, nothing but this strange quivering; then silence
and a sepulchral stillness – no panic, for surely we cannot sink.
Refreshments served in cabins, a cup of tea, a chicken sandwich,
only the steward’s shaking hand betrays concern.
Later, we hastily slip our coats over lace-edged negligees,
choose slippers for speed over shoes and buttoned boots,
strap ghost-white life-preservers across our breasts.
We clamber into boats, are swung into the air above the sea,
thirty-six souls, rough seamen fumbling unfamiliar oars,
wanting to stay close to the liner’s smoke-stacked bulk.
Wives call out for husbands, mothers for their sons;
in answer only dimming deck lights and the cries of drowning.
Finally the distant throb of engines, Carpathia’s heartbeat,
the shouts of help, the haul of ropes, the reaching hands.
Horizon’s dawn sketched pale across the pitch black sea.
for Harvey & Charlotte Collyer and their daughter Marjorie
In my dreams I see you, one arm folded beneath your head,
the other thrown aside as if you could perhaps reach out to me.
It is a calm repose, the relaxed sleep to end a busy day.
The seabed holds you, supports you like our marriage cot;
silt, creased like linen sheets, ruffles round your limbs.
I would drape a blanket over you, protect your back from draughts;
then I see you wear your Sunday suit and I remember. Wake.
Relive those bitter hours of fear and cold, the creep of anguish,
the glare of public bulletins, the newsman’s callous flash.
There were kindnesses: clothes for us both and toys for Madge,
relief from Mansion House. But all besides my wedding ring was lost;
your pockets full of money from the sale of house and store
pressed beneath your now-stilled heart, your breathless chest.
The first of these pieces, about the governess, captures the mood on the ship after the collision. The second is concerned with the after effects on one family. So many wives were widowed, so many children made fatherless, by the cruel rule of only allowing women and children on the boats. At the time, this rule did not seem cruel. But had their been sufficient lifeboats, it would not have been necessary.
Titanic taught us we cannot beat nature. I believe it continues to capture the imagination because it was the end of an age of innocence. The two world wars made sea disasters almost commonplace. 1912 was a time of optimism and hope of a brilliant future, which was shattered all too soon.
Thank you to Angi for submitting these fine poems.