Category Archives: The Sea

Images from the Bridge of Si’s

poetry festival coverLast weekend saw yet another fantastic Poetry Festival in Teignmouth.  Thanks to Jenny, Ronnie, Virginia, Graham and Ian for so much hard work and the tremendous effort in bringing this to fruition each year.

In the last two years I have written something to mark the festival (2014 – Poet Clan and 2015 – Matt Harvey, the Kipper and the Kenning).  So a tradition has been born.  This year’s poem is about the opening night when three performers – Susan Taylor, Simmon Williams and Simon Barron – put on a tour de force about the sea and shore.

There were three aspects I enjoyed especially:  such a rich range and variety of content and style;  the lyricism of the poetry was complemented by the sounds of the extraordinary guitar playing of Simon Barron in his rendering of sea-songs and the amazing mystical power of the Tibetan ocean drum (a musical oxymoron?!) which features as a reprise in this poem; and, finally, Susan’s flowing movements when reading that helped to bring the poetry to life.  Susan was like the flow of water through the bridge arches of the two Simons.

For those of you who attended that evening you should recognise the references.  For everyone  else, trying to condense a two hour performance into two minutes is not easy and this may seem a bit like a weird surreal dream, but that is why the poem is described as ‘images’.

Images from the Bridge of Si’s

Well Met Susan Taylor,
Simon Williams and Simon Barron;
Susan on the bridge of Si’s –
hear the sighs of the sea
and the swirl of the curl
of the estuary shore,
on a night to remember.

Hear the swish, the swoosh
of the ocean wash
from the ocean drum …
and the thrum of the heart of the fisherman
cupped in the claws of the skeleton woman,
ripped yet beating still …
See the goddess fingers, severed,
dip and dive,
coming alive as schools of seals and whales.
Inuit tales.
Fairy tales of the Tylwyth Teg.
Mermaids who take off their tails
and walk for a while
with a wink and a nod,
a McGonagall smile
at the Dawlish Seawall and Rail …. Disaster.

Hera the swish, the swoosh
of the ocean wash
from the ocean drum …
when the Sandman comes
at the time of the tide
of the ‘void of course’ moon.
Spermataphores of cephalopods.
Seamen’s songs
of wild young men and raffish lads,
stout infant fish of forty days.
There’s red port left!
So, heave away
into the bay of Valparaiso
where you’ll fall for the lust of a Spanish lass,
long gone those girls …. of Plymouth.

Hear the swish, the swoosh
of the ocean wash
from the ocean drum …
– it’s Tibetan, you know –
on a night to remember.


The Mercury

Written May 16th 1830, the thirtieth anniversary of Samuel Codner's preservation from shipwreck, on board the ship Mercury

Written May 16th 1830, the thirtieth anniversary of Samuel Codner’s preservation from shipwreck, on board the ship Mercury

We’ve had a sailor who didn’t make it home, the revelries of those Newfoundland fishermen who did make it back home and, today, a post about someone who almost lost his life but survived the crossing from Newfoundland and went on to do great philanthropic deeds over there. He was Samuel Codner.

The poem commemorates the 30th anniversary of his survival following the capsizing of the Mercury on its journey back from Newfoundland to Teignmouth. The commemoration is actually in the form of a print of a Thomas Luny picture with the poem combined within the frame. A copy can be seen at the Royal Maritime Museum in Greenwich.

For more information follow the link at the end of the poem. It’s not clear but I am assuming that the poem was actually written by Samuel Codner to give thanks for his survival.

It has no title so I’ve simply called it “The Mercury”.

The Mercury
(Samuel Codner)

O Lord! This day recalls to mind
Thy mercy and thy power
Which drove the Ship before the wind
In an eventful hour

She drifts and then the hull is brine
No sail assists her course
She mounts the waves and tempest-torn
For hours resists its force.

Sudden she slips and prostrate lies,
The masts concealed from view.
The Seaman’s skill the storm defies
While cling the trembling crew.

The Bowsprit goes, the Foremast then
Next Mizzenmast is broke
Maintopmast severed, Oh what pen
Can tell each thundering stroke.

All hope is fled, each wave that rolls
Seems fraught with instant death
But He whose power the sea controls
Preserves their fainting breath

The Lord appeared in danger’s hour
The Mainmast sudden broke
The ship then righted by His power
Withholding deaths fell stroke.

Lord of the waves our hearts inspire
With praise for mercies given!
A soul then saved from vengeance dire
Thou didst design for Heaven.

That soul thus rescued from the wave
Christ’s tender mercy sought
This Servant preached His will to save
The truth with power was fraught.

The heart was drawn to feel the word
That grace was freely given.
Rebellion’s arm threw down the sword,
Love ope’d the gates of Heaven

The faith and hope which then were gained,
Twice twenty years have hied,
And peace and joy through grace attained,
Assured the Lord will guide.

Want to know more?  Check out:

Samuel Codner …..

Note:  The painting title says:

Written May 16th, The Thirtieth Anniversary of Samuel Codner’s Preservation from Shipwreck on Board the Ship Mercury Lat: 49° 30’ N., Lon: 13° W. The Ship turned on her beam ends at 7.15PM and remained in that situation twenty five minutes.

For me there is some confusion about the year.  I have found a reference suggesting “She was sailing from St. John’s, the provincial capital of Newfoundland, Canada, to England in 1822 when the disaster occurred.” which doesn’t correspond with the 30th anniversary.  More research needed I think!

Coming Back Home

Fishing for Cod off Newfoundland

Fishing for Cod off Newfoundland

The last post was about the poignant story of Donald Crowhurst, a sailor who left Teignmouth in 1968 on the Round the World race never to return home.

Today’s post is a song by Bob Freshwater of the Back Beach Boyz about Teignmouth’s cod fishermen of the 19th century who did return home.

After fishing for cod in the North Atlantic off Newfoundland for many months in the 1850s the crew are thinking about coming home to Teignmouth and having a tankard or two of ale to rinse away the salt ….. maybe more than a couple ….. at some of the pubs on and around the River Beach and Quays.

Coming Back Home
(Bob Freshwater)

What will you have when we’re on dry land?
I’ll have a pint of porter
Why not start in The Bird in the Hand
It’s away from the saltwater.

For better or worse we’ll quench our thirst
With a tun or butt or hogshead
Kilderkin, firkin or pin
Maybe just a pint and see Jack next door
                   (Last Verse) Before we hit the floor

What will you have now we’re home from sea?
I’ll have a pint of Porter
In The Newfoundland Fishery
And drink to the Cod Importer

What will you have to rinse your throat?
I’ll have a pint of Porter
Let’s go down The Ferryboat
And stand in bricks and mortar

What will you have, when your heads in a spin?
I’ll have a pint of Porter
Let’s go down to The Old Quay Inn
Beside the tall transporter

What will you have in the smoke and gloom?
I’ll have a pint of Porter
Let’s go along to The Horse and Groom
The walk is slightly shorter

What will you have when you’ve had the five?
I’ll have a pint of Porter
Let’s go along to the old Beehive
And toast the Captain’s daughter

What will you have; cos I forgot?
I’ll have a pint of porter
Let’s call into the old Pilot
Have you had more than you ought to?

What will you have before we leave?
I’ll have a pint of porter
Then ‘tis time for the Back Beach Weave
Before the final slaughter

Want to know more? Check out:

Old pubs of Teignmouth …..
The Back-Beach Boyz …..
One family’s history of Newfoundland …..

The Teignmouth Electron

'New' Teignmouth Electron moored off Teignmouth Seafront for the filming

‘New’ Teignmouth Electron moored off Teignmouth Seafront for the filming

So there’s been a brief hiatus after that batch of poems associated with Keats.  I thought I’d start again with a topic that totally absorbed the town in early June.

A few weeks ago Teignmouth became centre of the universe as Colin Firth, Rachel Weisz and a film crew descended on the town for a week’s filming for the production of a film about the ill-fated Donald Crowhurst.


Donald Crowhurst and the Teignmouth Electron

Donald Crowhurst and the Teignmouth Electron

It was almost 50 years ago that Donald Crowhurst set sail from Teignmouth in the trimaran ‘Teignmouth Electron’ to take part in the Sunday Times Golden Globe Race, a solo unbroken yacht race around the world – the first of its kind. That was the last that was seen of Crowhurst. On the 10th of July 1969, his boat was found adrift, unmanned. His body was never recovered.  The wreck of the Teignmouth Electron now lies decaying at Cayman Brac.

“The Teignmouth Electron” is actually a song by Benjamin Akira Tallamy inspired by the tale of Donald Crowhurst. These are the lyrics:

The Teignmouth Electron
(Benjamin Akira Tallamy)

The clouds are no ocean,
the stars are no mask
we may peer into shadow,
we may claw at the past,

but to be lost on that motion,
to be cast on that flood,
to be washed in that silence,
is colder than blood,

if the world was an ocean,
And the stars were but dreams,
And all men were sailors,
with the heart and the means,

Then to follow that notion,
to be drawn to that call,
To be lost in that silence,
would be the mercy of all,

come lay me down,
sweetly wash away,
the fear in your eyes and hold,
draw us down,
in arms alone,
all for to sleep and to pray,

All these words,
All the woes,
will soon be forgiven I say,
come on home,
to stay.

Harbours close to some few lonesome travelers,
Silence clings to those who choose to pray,

we are the world and the world is the world we let in,
We are the words and the world is the words we we let in,
we are the way of a heart locked in timeless motion,
we are the want of all dreams in an endless ocean.

Want to know more? Checkout:

Donald Crowhurst …..
The Teignmouth Electron – A single by Benjamin Akira Tallamy

Picture of Donald Crowhurst on New Quay Inn Teignmouth.  Painted by Mos Shaw

Picture of Donald Crowhurst on New Quay Inn Teignmouth. Painted by Mos Shaw

And as a plug for local street art here is a picture of Donald Crowhurst on the wall of the New Quay Inn, Teignmouth, painted by local artist Mos Shaw.

Premonitory (Teignmouth 1818)

Clark's promontory - the Parson and Clerk

Clark’s promontory – the Parson and Clerk

This second poem by Tom Clark also comes from his collection ‘Junkets on a Sad Planet: Scenes From the Life of John Keats’. The accompanying picture also appears in the book and gives an indication of the inspiration behind the poem.

“Junkets” apparently is the cockney nickname one of Keats’s friends devised for him.

Premonitory (Teignmouth 1818)
(Tom Clark)

Mariners don’t think about the deeps too much.
The canvas of my reverie: maritime,
With promontory, cave, and little antique
Town that’s emptied for a sacrifice.
A boat tacks around the cove and disappears
Into my mind’s eye, where the scene plays over

And over: a small town beside an immense sea,
A white sail tacks around the promontory.
Mariners don’t think too much about the deeps,
Poets were once thought premonitory.
The canvas of my reverie is
Maritime, with a promontory, a town:

The town has emptied for a sacrifice.
I close my eyes, but the same scene plays over:
Above the victim’s head the priest suspends
A blade, light plays cleanly upon bronze,
A sun beats down, the confused heifer lows,
The pipe shrills, the bright libation flows,

Those of the faithful with weak nerves look away,
The blue paint splashed beneath a glowing sky
Bleeds across the harbor to the bobbing skiff
Whose white sail shows above the green head cliff,
Moves around the point, and seems to freeze in time
The unison hymn of sailors who forget

All that they know but their songs’ chiming,
Chanting as we did when poetry was young,
Trying not to think too much about the deeps,
Our fear of death, and this abandoned town
Which itself has lost all memory of
The qualities of Life vacated when we die.

Want to know more?  Check out:

Tom Clark …..
Junkets on a Sad Planet …..

The Legend of Teignmouth

Letitia Elizabeth Landon

Letitia Elizabeth Landon

Today’s poem is a curious post. It is called ‘The Legend of Teignmouth’ and appears to be about Sir Francis Drake (though only mentioned as ‘Sir Francis’). Unless anyone knows any different I think the poet, Letitia Elizabeth Landon, might have got it wrong!

She was an early 19th century poet living in London. I suspect she hadn’t been to the West Country but moved in circles where Teignmouth would have been known and spoken about. So maybe she inadvertently associated Drake with Teignmouth rather than Tavistock where he was born. Who knows? Anyway it is called what is called and therefore, mistaken or not, it deserves a place in this collection.

(Incidentally, Thomas Aggett referred to his poem ‘Parson and the Clerk’ as ‘A legend of Teignmouth’ and, as we saw in the last post, Elias Parish Alvars composed a piece of music also entitled ‘Legend of Teignmouth’).

A Legend of Teignmouth
(Letitia Elizabeth Landon)

A story of the olden time, when hearts
Wore truer faith than now—a carved stone
Is in a little ancient church which stands
‘Mid yonder trees, ’tis now almost defaced;
But careful eye may trace the mould’ring lines,
And kind tradition has preserved the tale;
I tell it nearly in the very words
Which are the common legend.

Some few brief hours, my gallant bark,
And we shall see the shore;
My native, and my beautiful,
That I will leave no more.

And gallantly the white sails swept
On, on before the wind;
The prow dash’d through the foam and left
A sparkling line behind.

The sun look’d out through the blue sky,
A gladsome summer sun;
The white cliffs like his mirrors show
Their native land is won.

And gladly from the tall ship’s side,
Sir Francis hail’d the land,
And gladly in his swiftest boat,
Row’d onward to the strand.

“I see my father’s castle walls
Look down upon the sea;
The red wine will flow there to-night,
And all for love of me.

“I left a gentle maiden there:
For all the tales they say
Of woman’s wrong and faithlessness
To him who is away;

“I’ll wager on her lily hand,
Where’s still a golden ring;
But, lady, ’tis a plainer one
That o’er the seas I bring.”

His bugle sound the turret swept
They meet him in the hall;
But ‘mid dear faces where is hers,
The dearest of them all?

Ah! every brow is dark and sad,
And every voice is low;
His bosom beats not as it beat
A little while ago.

They lead him to a darken’d room.
A heavy pall they raise;
A face looks forth as beautiful
As in its living days.

A ring is yet upon the hand,
Sir Francis, worn for thee.
Alas! that such a clay-cold hand,
Should true love’s welcome be!

He kiss’d that pale and lovely mouth,
He laid her in the grave;
And then again Sir Francis sail’d
Far o’er the ocean wave.

To east and west, to north and south,
That mariner was known;
A wanderer bound to many a shore,
But never to his own.

At length the time appointed came,
He knew that it was come;
With pallid brow and wasted frame,
That mariner sought home.

The worn-out vessel reach’d the shore,
The weary sails sank down;
The seamen clear’d her of the spoils
From many an Indian town.

And then Sir Francis fired the ship;
Yet tears were in his eyes,
When the last blaze of those old planks
Died in the midnight skies.

Next morning, ’twas a Sabbath morn
They sought that church, to pray;
And cold beside his maiden’s tomb
The brave Sir Francis lay.

O, Death! the pitying that restored
The lover to his bride;
Once more the marble was unclosed,
They laid him at her side.

And still the evening sunshine sheds
Its beauty o’er that tomb;
Like heaven’s own hope, to mitigate
Earth’s too unkindly doom.

Want to know more?  Check out:

Letitia Elizabeth Landon

King’s Shilling

Trafalgar men

Trafalgar men

Thought I would post this whilst I have access to the internet. So it’s about tomorrow and slightly out of order.

October 21st is Trafalgar Day.  The history books record the exploits of the officers and Teignmouth was a popular place for retirement of naval captains.  But …..

Wander through Teignmouth, look carefully and you will see signs of Trafalgar everywhere.  Start from the Ship Inn where a plaque on the wall commemorates fourteen Teignmouth men who took part in that battle, (some perhaps not so willingly if they had been press-ganged outside the Jolly Sailor!)

Their names are to be found also on benches throughout town, placed there in 2005 to mark the 200th anniversary of the battle. I think this is particularly poignant because what do we usually remember of naval battles? – the admirals and the warships (the Ajax, for example, appeared again in the Battle of the River Plate in WW2).

Remember instead ordinary men, with ordinary names, leading ordinary lives in a town like Teignmouth.

King’s Shilling

The Achille, the Colossus, the Conqueror,
the Ajax, Defiance and Spartiate,
Temeraire, Polyphemus and Bellisle;
bearing the brave, those ships of the line,
ruling the waves
with names that live on,
glorious, proud, heroic, blood-chilling
names of which Empire was made.

Ordinary seaman, able seaman, Royal Marine,
master’s mate, caulker’s mate, carpenter,
quartermaster, ….. lieutenant;
bearing skills for the ships of the line.
Some, press-ganged slaves –
Jolly Sailor men.
Rum-soaked, ale-soused, they took the King’s Shilling.
All hail! Thus Empire was made.

Arscott, Bishop, Blacklock, Brown,
Collins, Corsley, Edwards, Sweet,
Richards, Walker, Tibbs and Gay,
Squarey and Kay, all men of the line,
forever engraved
so their names can live on
on brass plates on benches in Teignmouth,
a town where Empire was made.