A badass song for today’s shipping world

A badass song for today’s shipping world

I recently watched the Netflix TV series ‘Inside Man‘. The theme song,‘God’s Gonna Cut You Down’ by American singer John Grant, immediately caught my ear. Somehow it reminded me of certain players in the shipping world, particularly those who contribute in one way or another to the suffering of seafarers and other people.

About the song

‘God’s Gonna Cut You Down’ (also known as ‘God Almighty’s Gonna Cut You Down’) is an American folk song that was first recorded in 1941 by the Golden Gate Quartet under the Columbia label. Some have rightly called it a gospel song as it talks about divine retribution for wrongdoing. Indeed, it is a Christian take on the old saying “what goes around, comes around”.

Mind-blowing lyrics

The song opens with a dire warning: “You can run on for a long time/ Run on for a long time/ Run on for a long time/ Sooner or later God’ll cut you down/ Sooner or later God’ll cut you down”.

It goes on to identify those who face the wrath of the Almighty:

the long-tongued liar

the midnight rider

the rambler

the gambler

the back biter

The word “rambler” reminded me of maritime folks who make long-winded speeches or talk incessantly about certain issues (e.g., depression at sea) to push some agenda. “Midnight rider” called to mind the pirate who preys on merchant ships and their crews.

I was particularly struck by the following lines, which made me think of the manning agents who skim money from the remittances of seafarers and the shipowners who use flags of convenience to escape accountability:

Well you may throw your rock and hide your hand
Workin’ in the dark against your fellow man
But as sure as God made black and white
What’s down in the dark will be brought to the light

The Johnny Cash version

The song has been recorded by numerous artists in various styles. One of the most popular versions is by the legendary American country singer-songwriter, Johnny Cash (1932 – 2003). Listen to him perform ‘God’s Gonna Cut You Down’ from his posthumously released 2006 album American V: A Hundred Highways:

~ Barista Uno

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People and steamboats: A bygone era remembered

People and steamboats: A bygone era remembered

People and steamboats: A bygone era remembered

Save for a few survivors, the steamboats of yore have long vanished. Gone are their captains and passengers, the sound of their whistles, and the fumes from their smokestacks. The ghosts of the past, however, linger on in old photographs to tell their stories.

A Mississippi River landing, Memphis, Tennessee, c. 1906
Courtesy of the Library of Congress, USA

S.S. City of Peterborough, an excursion steamer on the Otonabee River, Ontario, c. 1900
Courtesy of Musée McCord Stewart

High water, Montreal harbour, Quebec, c. 1870
Courtesy of Musée McCord Stewart

Men and women on steamboat Astatula, 1893
Courtesy of the State Archives of Florida

Steamship Sultana, Helena, Arkansas, 1865
Courtesy of Flickr / Mike Goad

Play & download this old-time song:

STEAMBOAT (Blow Your Whistle Again)

Tilbury Steamer on the River Thames, 1883
Courtesy of The National Archives UK

Paddle steamboat Westward Ho bound from Bristol to Ilfracombe, 1900
Courtesy of The National Archives UK

Captain Henry D. DeGrove with his son, Henry Jr., standing in front of the pilot house of the May Garner — Jacksonville, Florida, 1910
Courtesy of the State Archives of Florida

The Chesapeake, a U.S. Mail steamboat, 1887
Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution

Arrival of a steamer in Konstanz, 1906
Courtesy of Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

~ Barista Uno

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A trio of fabulous poems about fishermen

A trio of fabulous poems about fishermen

Seascape at Berck, Fishing Boats and Fishermen by Édouard Manet (French, 1832 – 1883)

More poems, it seems to me, have been written about merchant sailors than about commercial fishermen. I find this rather odd. Fishermen, after all, have a much harder time eking out a living at sea. As the International Labour Organizaton points out on its website:

Fishing involves long hours and strenuous activity in an often challenging marine environment. Fishers may be using simple or complex dangerous machinery to catch, sort and store fish. Injury and fatality rates are much higher in the fishing sector than national averages for all workers in many countries.

Fortunately, I found, after a good deal of searching, three outstanding poems about the world of fishermen. Hopefully they will make the reader pause and think of these unsung group of maritime workers.

Off to the Fishing Ground

by Lucy Maud Montgomery (Canadian, 1874-1942)

There’s a piping wind from a sunrise shore
Blowing over a silver sea,
There’s a joyous voice in the lapsing tide
That calls enticingly;
The mist of dawn has taken flight
To the dim horizon’s bound,
And with wide sails set and eager hearts
We’re off to the fishing ground.

Ho, comrades mine, how that brave wind sings
Like a great sea-harp afar!
We whistle its wild notes back to it
As we cross the harbor bar.
Behind us there are the homes we love
And hearts that are fond and true,
And before us beckons a strong young day
On leagues of glorious blue.

Comrades, a song as the fleet goes out,
A song of the orient sea!
We are the heirs of its tingling strife,
Its courage and liberty.
Sing as the white sails cream and fill,
And the foam in our wake is long,
Sing till the headlands black and grim
Echo us back our song!

Oh, ’tis a glad and heartsome thing
To wake ere the night be done
And steer the course that our fathers steered
In the path of the rising sun.
The wind and welkin and wave are ours
Wherever our bourne is found,
And we envy no landsman his dream and sleep
When we’re off to the fishing ground.

At the Fishhouses

by Elizabeth Bishop (American, 1911–1979)

Although it is a cold evening,
down by one of the fishhouses
an old man sits netting,
his net, in the gloaming almost invisible,
a dark purple-brown,
and his shuttle worn and polished.
The air smells so strong of codfish
it makes one’s nose run and one’s eyes water.
The five fishhouses have steeply peaked roofs
and narrow, cleated gangplanks slant up
to storerooms in the gables
for the wheelbarrows to be pushed up and down on.

Read the full text of the poem here.

The Hidden Tide

Roderic Joseph Quinn (Australian, 1867-1949)

Within the world a second world  
 That circles ceaselessly:  
Stars in the sky and sister stars—  
 Turn in your eyes and see!  

Tides of the sea that rise and fall,          
 Aheave from Pole to Pole—  
And kindred swayings, veiled but felt,  
 That noise along the soul.  

Yon moon, noon-rich, high-throned, remote,  
 And pale with pride extreme,          
Draws up the sea, but what white moon  
 Exalts the tide of Dream?  

The Fisher-Folk who cast their nets  
 In Vision’s golden tide  
Oft bring to light misshapen shells,          
 And nothing worth beside.  

And so their worn hands droop adown,  
 Their singing throats are dumb;  
The Inner-Deep withholds its pearls  
 Till turn of tide be come.          

But patience! wait—the good tide turns,  
 The waters inward set;  
And lo, behold! aleap, alive  
 With glowing fish the net!  

O Toilers of the Hidden Seas!          
 Ye have strange gain and loss,  
Dragging the Deeps of Soul for pearls,  
 And ofttimes netting dross.  

Flushed to the lips with golden light,  
 And dark with sable gloom;          
Thrilled by a thousand melodies,  
 And silent like a tomb.  

Fierce are the winds across your realm,  
 As though some Demon veiled  
Had loosed the gales of Spirit-land          
 To ravage ways unsailed.  

But still sweet hours befall at times,  
 Rich-lit and full of ease;  
The afterglow is like the light  
 Of sunset on tired seas.          

And worse, perhaps, may be the lot  
 Of those whose fate is sleep;  
The sodden souls without a tide,  
 Dense as a rotten deep.  

Pain paves the way for keener joy,        
 And wondrous thoughts uproll  
When the large moon of Peace looks down  
 On high tide in the soul.

~ Barista Uno

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The romance of rivers in precious old photographs

The romance of rivers in precious old photographs

The romance of rivers in precious old photographs

Rivers have as much power as the sea to inspire photographers. Here are some pictures on the subject from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Although very old, they still brim with the charm and mystery of the rivers that captured the photographer’s imagination.

It is by the brink of running water that poetry is revealed to the mind.

— James Stephens, from Irish Fairy Tales, 1920

Susquehanna River near Shickshinny, Pennsylvania, c. 1900
Photographer unidentified
Courtesy of the Library of Congress, USA

Under the Bluffs of the Withlacoochee River, Florida, c. 1885
Photographer unidentified
Courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum

Crusoe’s Island – River Granta, 1887
Photo by Peter Henry Emerson (British, born Cuba, 1856–1936)
Courtesy of The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles


Something wanders among the mountains,
Something ripples along forget-me-not fields,
Somethihngs curves its golden sand-bar
Like the hanld of a purple sword.
Do not wonder :
Something is looking for a castle
Made of seaweed, shells and coral,
Where the sea curls
Under the sunrise.

— Hilda Conkling, 1920

Cape Horn on Columbia River, c. 1900
Photo by J.F. Ford (American, active 1900s)
Courtesy of The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Minnesota River, 1908
Photo by J. Frederick Krost (no other information available)
Courtesy of the Library of Congress, USA

Boys with a Boat, Ohio River, near Wheeling, West Virginia, 1880
Photo by Thomas Anshutz (American, 1851?1912)
Courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum

I do not know much about gods; but I think that the river
Is a strong brown god—sullen, untamed and intractable,
Patient to some degree, at first recognised as a frontier;
Useful, untrustworthy, as a conveyor of commerce;
Then only a problem confronting the builder of bridges.
The problem once solved, the brown god is almost forgotten
By the dwellers in cities—ever, however, implacable.

— T. S. Eliot, from The Dry Salvages (No. 3 of ‘Four Quarters’), 1943

River and elevators, Buffalo, c. 1900
Photographer unidentified
Courtesy of the Library of Congress, USA

Parliament From the River, 1914
Photo by Alvin Langdon Coburn (British, born United States, 1882–1966)
Courtesy of The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

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~ Barista Uno

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Marine art by 10 painters who met an untimely end

Marine art by 10 painters who met an untimely end

“He whom the gods love dies young,” wrote the Greek dramatist Menander (342/41–291 BC). Maybe so, but the death of a gifted artist at a relatively young age is still tragic. Who knows what greater things that individual might have accomplished had he or she lived longer? Here is a list of 10 painters who passed away in their 20s and 30s with samples of their marine art.

Richard Gerstl (1883–November 1908): 25

Austrian painter and most enigmatic artist of turn-of-the-century Vienna. Committed suicide.

Read about Gerstl’s life and art here.

Traunsee mit “Schlafender Griechin” (Lake Traun with Mountain Sleeping Greek Woman), 1907
Oil on canvas
Richard Gerstl (14 September 1883 – 4 November 1908)
Courtesy of Google Cultural Institute

August Macke (1887–1914): 27

German Expressionist painter. Killed in action in World War I.

Read about Macke’s life and art here.

Angler am Rhein (Anglers on the Rhine), 1907
Oil on cardboard
August Macke (3 January 1887 – 26 September 1914)
Courtesy of Lenbachhaus, Munich

Egon Schiele (1890–1918): 28

Austrian Expressionist painter. Notorious during his time for his often sexually explicit depictions of the human body. Died of the Spanish flu.

Read about the life and art of Schiele here.

Hafen von Triest (Harbour of Trieste), 1907
Oil and pencil on cardboard
Egon Schiele (12 June 1890 – 31 October 1918)
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Paula Modersohn-Becker (1876–1907): 31

German painter. Died shortly after giving birth to her only child.

Read about Modersohn-Becker’s life and art here.

Marsh channel with peat barges, c. 1900
Tempera on paperboard
Paula Modersohn-Becker (8 February 1876 – 20 November 1907)
Courtesy of WikiArt: Visual Art Encyclopedia

George Seurat (1859–1891): 31

French painter usually associated with Pointillism, a style of painting in which small distinct dots of colour blend together when seen from a distance. Died after a brief illness, exact cause unknown.

Read about the life and art of Seurat here.

The Lighthouse at Honfleur, 1886
Oil on canvas
George Seurat (2 December 1859 – 29 March 1891)
Courtesy of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Umberto Boccioni (1882–1916): 33

Italian painter and sculptor. Saw action in World War I as a soldier in the Italian army. Killed in 1916 after falling from a horse during a cavalry training exercise.

Read about Boccioni’s life and art here.

The Grand Canal in Venice, 1907
Oil on canvas
Umberto Boccioni (19 October 1882 – 17 August 1916)
Courtesy of WikiArt: Visual Art Encyclopedia

Mikalojus Konstantinas Ciurlionis (1875-1911): 35

Lithuanian composer, painter and writer. Died of pneumonia.

Read about the life and art of Ciurlionis here.

Aquarius, 1907
Tempera on paper
Mikalojus Konstantinas ?iurlionis (22 September 1875 – 10 April 1911)
Courtesy of WikiArt: Visual Art Encyclopedia

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864–1901): 36

French painter, printmaker and graphic artist known for his depictions of Parisian nightlife. Died of syphillis, having been a regular visitor of brothels.

Read about Toulouse-Lautrec’s life and art here.

Monsieur Emile Davoust, 1889
Oil on panel
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (24 November 1864 – 9 September 1901)
Courtesy of Christie’s
Shared by Marine Café Blog for educational purposes

Hishida Shunso (1874–1911): 36

Japanese painter. Died of kidney disease (nephritis).

Read about Shunso’s life and art here.

Fishing Boat on the Lake, 1900
Silk painting
Hishida Shuns? (21 September 1874 – 16 September 1911)
Courtesy of Obelisk
Shared by Marine Café Blog for educational purposes

Vincent van Gogh (1853 – 1890): 37

Dutch Post-Impressionist painter, generally considered the greatest after Rembrandt van Rijn. Commited suicide by most accounts.

Read about Van Gogh’s life and art here.

Starry Night Over the Rhone, 1888
Oil on canvas
Vincent van Gogh (30 March 1853 – 29 July 1890)
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

~ Barista Uno

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