To suggest that poetry can be useful to maritime executives and professionals may sound silly. In the contemporary shipping world, it is Plutus, the Greek god of wealth, who rules — not Apollo, the god of music, poetry, and light. Indulging in poetry seems such a waste of time, a luxury for practical people. But is it really?
For sure, poetry won’t add a cent to a reader’s bank book. But it was never meant to. Poetry has more subtle uses in the frenetic, profit-driven world of maritime commerce.
Poetry can provide fresh and powerful insights into life at sea and the hardships faced by seafarers. Consider Sara Teasdale’s short poem ‘At Sea’:
N the pull of the wind I stand, lonely,
On the deck of a ship, rising, falling,
Wild night around me, wild water under me,
Whipped by the storm, screaming and calling.
Earth is hostile and the sea hostile,
Why do I look for a place to rest?
I must fight always and die fighting
With fear an unhealing wound in my breast.
May I for my own self song’s truth reckon,
Journey’s jargon, how I in harsh days
Hardship endured oft.
Bitter breast-cares have I abided,
Known on my keel many a care’s hold,
And dire sea-surge, and there I oft spent
Narrow nightwatch nigh the ship’s head…
Poetry can help cultivate amongst seafarers a love for the sea as well as respect for the marine environment. Who would not be captivated by the opening stanza of John Masefield’s iconic ‘Sea-Fever’ and think of how beautiful the sea is?
I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.
Poetry — defined by Samuel Taylor Coleridge as “the best words in their best order” — can serve as a reminder to the shipping industry that one should choose one’s words carefully. Good poets avoid clichés and platitudes. They craft their language in such a way that the words are meaningful, not superfluous, and sound sincere. All this is worth keeping in mind for the slogan-spinners at IMO London and all maritime folks who wish, not just to be understood, but to be believed by their audience.
Finally, poetry can enable maritime professionals to reconnect with their essential humanity and that of others, especially the seafarers. The great Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas, said about poetry:
Poetry is what in a poem makes you laugh, cry, prickle, be silent, makes your toenails twinkle, makes you want to do this or that or nothing, makes you know that you are alone and not alone in the unknown world, that your bliss and suffering is forever shared and forever all your own. All that matters about poetry is the enjoyment of it however tragic it may be all that matters is the eternal movement behind it – the great undercurrent of human grief, folly, pretension, exaltation and ignorance – however unlofty the intention of the poem. (from ‘A Few Words of a Kind’ by Dylan Thomas)