Passing Ships [*POEM*]

PASSING  SHIPS

By XANADU

The night was cold as death. The sea
Ran dark between us: you and I
Stood on passing ships. You saw me
From your deck, as my ship slipped by.

You on your deck, I upon mine,
And the sundering sea between.
Ship lights on deck made your eyes shine.
Lights fell on me—I, too, was seen.

For one brief moment there we stood,
Frozen in time, just you and me.
You threw me a look I understood—
A look as old as history.

Our ships dissolved into the night.
I went to my cabin and wept
For love denied and doomed delight.
All these long years that look has kept.

For one mad moment I was this:
Queen of magic and mystery. 
I was the rose that lovers kiss,
The red, red rose of memory.

8 thoughts to “Passing Ships [*POEM*]”

  1. As a lecturer in English Literature at an ancient university, it is truly heartening to find a website — I discovered this one by sheer chance — where formal poetry is still written and in which the rules of prosody are carefully observed.

    Prosody, it seems, is out of fashion nowadays. Free verse is the thing — which is basically “chopped-up prose”, which almost any hack can write nowadays and get published in obscure literary magazines.

    Writing in rhyme and meter, as “Xanadu” does, with careful attention paid to the number of stresses and syllables in each line, is a lost art akin to music. All our greatest poets wrote like this: Shakespeare, Milton, Shelley, Keats, Tennyson, Yeats, TS Eliot. (Eliot wrote free verse too, but rhyme and meter were also part of his repertoire. )

    I copy and paste the above from a comment I made on this site a few works ago about another poem by “Xanadu” and note here again the same homage paid to the last art of prosody. Here we have five A-B-A-B rhyming tetrameters — eight syllables and four stresses to each line. I liked the last verse in particular, especially its beautifully evocative final line:

    For one mad moment I was this:
    Queen of magic and mystery.
    I was the rose that lovers kiss,
    The red, red rose of memory.

    That last line strikes a chord, reminding me of other lines in English poetry where the rose is used as a metaphor for young love. I wonder: does this poem in any way echo the sentiments expressed in Blake’s enigmatic 8-line poem on the sick rose?

    “The Sick Rose”
    BY WILLIAM BLAKE

    O Rose thou art sick.
    The invisible worm,
    That flies in the night
    In the howling storm:

    Has found out thy bed
    Of crimson joy:
    And his dark secret love
    Does thy life destroy.

    1. BTW,

      I’m willing to bet that no one here knows the secret meaning of Blake’s poem quoted above. The meaning of Xanadu’s poem, however, could not be clearer.

      1. In regard to the Blake poem, allow me to say two things:

        (1) Blakes’s poem on the rose bears no relation whatsoever to Xanadu’s poem on passing ships in the night, a metaphor for fleeting love or transient relationships. I doubt if Xanadu had Blakes’s poem in mind at all while writing her own love poem.

        (2) Blake’s poem, whatever it’s supposed to be about, is certainly not a love poem. It’s too “dark” for that. Its meaning has been hotly debated, but no two critics have ever agreed on its definitive meaning. Its meaning remains for ever ambiguous and elusive. I know what it means, but I’m not saying. 🙂

      2. An English academic who teaches English Literature at Oxford or Cambridge and is also a poet in his own right — I forget his name right now — says Blake’s poem has a political meaning. Something to do with the French Revolution. I find that interpretation ridiculous. Some of these academics need shooting.

      3. I’m damned sure I know what the poem means
        but I’m not saying either. Blake was a weirdo,
        and he was into kinky sex. Hint, hint.

  2. Je me doutais bien qu’il se passait quelque chose de louche dans ce poème! Je donnerait cher pour rejoindre mon amour et savoir ce qui s’est passé! 🙂

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