These poems were all written by my father during the Second World War. He initially served as radio operator on a minesweeper ploughing up and down the east coast of Britain. In 1944 he left for Ceylon, then Australia and eventually Hong Kong and Singapore, during which period as par of "Ultra" he listened in to the radio converstaions between Japanese planes and bases in an attempt to locate their forces.

Poems written at sea

Dusk

The evening stillness
Hangs,
And settles o’er the sea.
Only a gull glides low
Winging its way, westwards
- To eternity


No sound
Disturbs the breathless air,
No fish, the placid sea;
And above
Only the sun looks down,
Tranquilly.

And soon, he too
His course outrun,
Will sink beneath the sea;
Retreating westwards
‘Fore the rising moon,
Unhurriedly…

Night
With her myriad eyes
Beholds the sea,
And wraps the sky,
The waters, deep
In mystery.

To a Chaffinch


Has the weather ill-treated you,
Drab little bird?
The wind ruffled your feathers ?
The storm torn your wings ?
Come, rest here awhile in the lee of the funnel;
Forget, for a moment the salt spray that stings
And the seas washing over the gunwale.

Whence you came, I wonder,
Forlorn little finch ?
Whither goest ? To the ends of the earth ?
In search of a happier clime ?
Where winter and summer go hand in hand
And the seasons all blossom alike, and where time
Is eternal ? Is’t there ye would land ?

I too would go with you
Adventurous flier;
Would escape with you over the sea
And journey away, till at last
- On the wings of the morn – on a glorious day
We’d alight in a dreamland where clouds never passed
O’er the sun, and the skies are not grey.

But what of the present,
Lone wanderer ?
Art strong enough now to continue ?
Canst brave the wild wind on thine own,
And find thy way southward o’er mountain and fell,
‘Cross ocean and desert ?
Wee traveller alone,
God grant you good luck, - and farewell !

Lines written in Seasickness

This eternal rolling; will it never be still ?
Will never this endless sway of heaving sea subside ?
Has she harboured since time began some ill
This sea, some chronic and awful discontent
That she chooses on us to vent
Her displeasure ? Will she never relent ?

Waves

Waves,
Whiteflecked, curling, creeping onward
O’er the bosom of the sea, -
Born of the vagrant wind
That drives the saltspray
Stinging, drenching,
‘Cross the lurching craft’s
Unsteady deck.

Pitching, plunging, shocked
Against the steep sea’s
Grim unyielding might
The little ships plough on;
Plough on with a shuddering impact
Through the wall of living sea.

Above, the sun
That journeys slowly ’cross the sky
Looks down and mocks,
That on his sea the tossing ships should wallow so.
And yet, no cloud
Disrupts the blue expanse
That stretches round him
Vast, unbroken to the very confines
Of the earth.

Beneath, the unruly wind,
Unheedful, inescorable,
Lifts the rising waves
And drives them surging, billowing on
|To rock and roll
Against some small ship’s side
And breaking, cascading
O’er the slippery deck.

The sun, disdainful from his lofty seat,
The sea, untamed,
The wind, unfettered,
Join to paint with living tints
The shining fascination
Of the rushing and the swirling
Of the waves.

Morning, October.

October, all the bright and coloured show
That fills the heat of summer’s days
Can never in its gaudy splendour know
The humbler beauty of thy ways.

See, see how calm the troubled ocean flows,
How smooth the rippled waters lie
Scarce breathing in the winter’d wind that blows
Those wisped dancers ‘cross the sky.

The frail clouds hover ‘mong the morning shacks
Poised, sun hue’d o’er the shining sea,
Ands live and die as each tint grow and fades
And tells of life’s inconstancy.

Now die the gentle hues of morning’s light;
The sun glares down upon the sea;
Dispels his courtier band, and burnished bright
Reigns lonely in his brilliancy.


Other poems …. 1943 – 4

 

Canteen (In dejection)

(1)
Buzz of conversation,
Chatter, singing,
Clink of teacups ringing
Harsh cacophony of sounds, impinging
Each on each.
Eardrums humming,
Bootsoles drumming,
Piano thrumming
Wild, discordant, jarring tunes,
Catchy, old time, rag-time runes,
Running, rushing,
Madly gushing
One upon one in endless stream.


(ll)

Yet
Watch them, these men.
Men and women
Having nothing better to do.
Sitting at food, day-dreaming,
Deep in their own thoughts.
Or in groups at table
Talking, emptily, forcing conversation
Stranger to stranger.
Talk,
Always the same talk;
Topics worn to vulgarity,
Repeated night after night
One to another.
And laughter, hollow, deceptive,
Ringing
Vainly
Inanely.

And faces, blank, unmoving,
Uneloquent faces.
Uneloquent ? Speechless ?
No, speaking as no words can:
Of despondency,
Lifelessness,
Grim disillusionment;
And a longing, a longing
Deep and sincere
-Deep to their very souls _
For home.
Home
And peace.

(111)

Time.
What is time to the timeless ?
They who count not the hour nor the day;
But dreaming, only dream the richness of life,
A life they have ceded that others may live,
A living not theirs.
No, not theirs.
Theirs only in hope and memory –
A memory cherished; a hope scarce framed into thoughts
That, formless, floats as a vision, intangible;
Yet real, real enough to repeat
Again and again and again;
THIS will be ours.
This SHALL be ours.

Black Kitten

Someone
Once called you a lady,
You
Little round ball of black fluffiness.

But none
Who knew you
Wee globe of inky conceit
Could ever mistake
You for a lady.

See how you sit there
Puny black panther,
Choked over with arrogance.
Eyes
Great orange-rimmed plates of malevolence
Hiding deep
Such repleteness of intelligence;
Spelling such spite
As the lithe black jungle panther
Knows only in hunger extremity.

Panther,
Hammocked Mephistopheles,
Demonic mite,
Insignificant blot of unsociable egotism.
Smudge proud,
What height of conceited rebellious vanity
Blazes unconstrainable
Behind those fire-alive discs of your eyes !

You think you have outgrown your kittenishness,
Ink blot ?
“we are not amused”
Eh, when we play ?
No, not amusement
Indolent, arrogant idol
But a fierce supercilious defiance,
Wild untamability
Burn brim-filled
In your cat-independent soul.

Cat independence.

You sneer at us humans,
Knowing.
Ah, how you know
Yours is a spirit unruled,
Unruly,
Subservient to none
But your won unspeakable
Envenomed contempt.

Yet you’re only too willing
To forget
Before food
Your contumely
Hypocrite,
And accept with gruff thanks
Whatever we offer.
Two-faced
Cosset.

Still,
How can we but love you,
Wee sinner
With your fire –blackened soul.
Wee soulless black sinner.


Bombers – 1

Hark! Low in the distance the bombers hum,
Pulsing the evening sky
With the dread of that ominous thrum
Of their death-note; climbing high.

Over and over, and still they pass,
Grim, black, shapeless things;
A message from hell in their menacing mass,
A cargo of death ‘neath their wings.

Fly out, fly out, you bomber crew,
Destruction is your Right.
Kill and destroy and bring us back news
Of the lives you have shattered tonight !

The lives of the guiltless, the weak and the strong,
Innocent dwellers in city and town.
Laugh! as they cower to the sickening song
Of the bombsticks screaming down.

Strike, strike home you butcher band,
Ghouls of a fiend’s abuséd might,
Wreak havoc and death in an alien land…
- May God help England tonight.

Bombers - 2

Hark ! Low in the sky as darkness grows
The bombers are taking flight.
Through all the land the murmur goes:
Berlin again tonight.

Berlin, do you hear that beating crescendo note
Of the bombers coming near ?
Do you know with terror filling your throat
The fullness of fear ?

Two thousand tons of death,
- The skies resound with the ditty –
Two thousand tons to strangle the breath
Of a German city.

And men look down and laugh from above,
Annihilate cities and lives;
Men who have know the sweetness of love
And children and wives.

Night after night, town upon town –
The newspaper headlines grow bolder.
Night after night as the bombs go down
The hearts of the British grow colder…

They’re still going out; and the moon shines white;
They haven’t killed enough yet.
Oh, those at home will remember this night,
Dear God, let me forget.

To Margaret

If every word I every tongue
That ever mortal knew
Were conned, yet could I find not one
Worthy enough of you.

Thy beauty doth for me surpass
The fairest flower that grows,
Transcends all beauty, as dull grass
Is outvied by the rose.

And most of all excels by far
The richness of thine eyes,
Whose glittering shames the brightest star
That shines in all the skies.

So to the tend’rest cheeks and lips
Enrich thy lovely face,
And all about thee doth eclipse
E’en Thalia’s comely grace.

As thus thy virtues far outshine
Whatever I can say
So does my heart respond to thine
And lives with thee alway.

 

In 1944 I left England.

Clyde

Dusk,
And the tide flows slowly by;
All else is still
Under the hill
Where the ships of the convoy lie.

Silent
And grim the cliffs frown down;
The ebbing tide
Of the dirty Clyde
Washes its muck past Greenock town.

Darkening
The western sky, sombre and bare,
with ne’er a smile
The hills of Argyle
Rise in the evening air.

Sinks-night,
Softly. Gently the wind abates.
The last gulls scream.
Out in the stream
The patient convoy waits…

Departure


The long twilight grew dim
And the first star shone in the summer sky…

Slowly the dull tide swung,
And we hung, poised on the creeping river.
- Only a faint quiver as a shadow moved by;
Only a gull to whisper goodbye.

Silently, sombrely, the dark shore slid past,
Dying, till at last it disappeared from sight.
- Only the night to wish us goodbye.

Aden

Only time outlives the burning sand, whence rose these ageless rocks that stand
Pale guardians of this wasted land; peaks whose jagged mass was moulded
Long ere the first wave folded spuming o’er the primal strand.
Yet, here where these sentinels guard the bay, come men in their arrogant way
Thinking to settle and stay; they bring their water and build their town -
And live with death - where the frown of those pinnacles darkens the day;
For the earth is cruel and bare, and under the hot sun’s glare
Breeds nothing but sweat and despair. And when men have all of them gone
The desert will still stay on, and these rocks will all be there…
Rock and earth and sun may stand, but only
Time outlives the sand.

Reverie - India

The lamp in my chamber
Swings moodily gleaming,
Its dim yellow light
Only seeming
To deepen the shades
That give birth to my dreaming.

The thin flame shivers,
Rises and falls;
Shadows dance
On the rushwalk walls -
Clear in the night
A hunting-pack calls

The stillness rings
With the jackal’s laughter -
In the vibrant silence
Following after
A cricket sings
From an unseen rafter.

And the song of the cricket
Would seem to be
The murderous surge
Of a far-off sea,
And the sound of a voice
That is dear to me.

That voice grows loud
And seems to say:
“come back, come back,
You sailor gay,
Come back from your wars
So far away”

The pale flame flickers
In the evening breeze…
I think of the whispering
Of sycamore trees;
Long days by the river
In careless ease;

And the green downs
Where bramble and sloe
Thistle and harebell
And bird’s-eye grow.
And the strong winds
Freely blow

O, I would return
To my native land,
Would see once again
Where the chestnuts stand
And the ivy and hawthorn
Grow hand in hand;

Where the old yew sleeps
By the churchyard gate,
(Displaying a notice
Of last year’s fête),
And under the willows
The cattle wait…

The lamp flares up,
And again I hear
That gentle voice
Within mine ear,
Calling , calling me,
“Come near, come near”.

O, I am sick
Of this endless war,
Of being confined
To an alien shore,
And told what it is
I am fighting for.

I would come back
My love, to you,
And live my life
As I used to do
When joy went with us
The whole day through…

The lamp in the darkness
Swings dimly gleaming,
The pale flame’s half-light
Over me streaming
Gives life to the shadows
That fashion my dreaming…

Ships

I have seen
Where the cold fog sleeps on the grey sea,
Phantom ships gliding like slow ghosts,
Shadowy.

I have seen,
In the deep haze of a tropic sea,
Veiled ships that slumbered, sunhued
In reverie.

I have seen,
When the setting sun poised on the burning sea,
Fiery ships that sailed over its bright rim,
Splendidly.

I have seen,
When the raged wind thrashed the wild sea
Strong ships that tossed and staggered
In agony.

I have seen,
When the pale stars smiled on the dark sea,
Black ships in the moonlight, silhouetted
In fantasy.

Sea Colour

I have seen the sea so dark a blue
That deep cobalt were a paler hue.
Or yet, so wondrous green
A fine emerald had less sheen.

I have seen the blazing sea so yellow
The desert sun were more mellow.
Or, dyed by the evening sky, a red
Which were less bloody if the whole earth bled.

I have seen the sea so shining black
That polished jet beside would lack
Lustre; her spume yet silver bright,
New fall’n snow were less white.

Australia: Vignettes

Frail gums
Poised on an azure sky.

Wistful, lonely,
Knowing only the rare things
Learned of a bird’s faint cry;
Or the rustle of sudden wings;
Or the soft whisperings
Of a breeze creeping by

---------------

A solitary horse
Standing its long hours in patience
Under a tired tree.

A magpie
That sat on a dead branch
An chattered to me.

--------------

Spare, scorched grass
That aches and blisters under a searing sky.

The harsh bleat of a crow
Flapping its dark way
O’er a dead land still waiting to die.

--------------

Evening,
Wavering half shadows play
Where svelte trees sway
In the light breeze.
Dusk holds its spell.

A jackass shatters the day.

Pacific

Sapphire sky
Unbroken blue;
Porcelain ocean
Cobalt hue;

Burning sun’s
Relentless rays;
Unchanging heat
Of tropic days.

Plodding tramp
In glassy sea
Graves its wake
Impassively.

Toiling seamen
Working ship
Glisten where
The sweat-drops drip.

- Ponderous feet
Of engine beat:
Stifled pulse
In viscous heat -

Glazéd ocean
Mirror’d sky;
Pellucid water
Glancing by.

Ocean tramp
In tropic sea
Throbbing onward
Patiently…

Songs of the peoples

The Chinese ( Hong Kong)

White and yellow and brown aspire
To the Fragant Port of the East’s desire;
Oh! White, be warned that the lion’s pyre
May yet be lit with dragon fire.

The Australians

Proud of our country, proud of our name,
Proud of our men who have fought for their fame,
And not the least of our splendid claim
Is our pride of the stock from which we came.


The Ceylonese

You want to know what money is for ? -
It’s to bribe the police to “settle a score”,
To “square” the jury “just to make sure”.
For money is power, money is law

 


©2005 Rob Hayward