A Channel Passage
The damned ship lurched and slithered. Quiet and quick
My cold gorge rose; the long sea rolled; I knew
I must think hard of something, or be sick;
And could only think hard of one thing - you!
You, you alone could hold my fancy ever!
And with you memories come, sharp pain and dole.
Now there’s a choice – heartache or tortured liver!
A sea-sick body, or a you-sick soul!
Do I forget you? Retchings twist and tie me,
Old meat, good meals, brown gobbets, up I throw.
Do I remember? Acrid return and slimy,
The sobs and slobber of a last years woe.
And still the sick ship rolls. ‘Tis hard I tell ye,
To choose ‘twixt love and nausea, heart and belly.
100 years ago today the poet Rupert Brooke set sail out of the port of Avonmouth on the vessel, Grantully Castle, their destination the Dardenelles. One month later whilst training in Egypt he suffered sun-stroke and, like so many troops serving abroad, Brooke contracted dysentery. No doubt these afflictions would have affected his physical health sufficiently that the sepsis from a mosquito bite became much harder to fight within a weakened body. His death on April 23rd 1915, at the age of 27 announced a life cut very short.
This poem contrasts with the romance of the English soil in Brooke’s, The Soldier; the English Channel offering nausea and seasickness in the days before stabilisers on ferries is, in fact, still within living memory. According to accounts of Brooke’s journey, despite being accommodated on a former ocean liner he suffered seasickness in the Bay of Biscay. Recalling my own voyage back from Singapore in 1966, mal de mer was to be expected and certain waters were notorious; the edge of Europe with the Atlantic being one such black spot. Thus it is curious to read his poem about such an unattractive topic, especially given Brooke’s reputation as a ‘golden boy’ epitomising beautiful youth.