The human body is the best picture of the human soul.
But the Captain is drunk, and the crew
hauling hard on his windlass of fury are whipped
by his know-nothing rage. Their terror
troubles the sunlight. ‘Now tell me’,
the Captain says, as his drunkenness
drifts into tears, ‘What’s to keep me
at ease in this harbour?’
‘We’ll tell you’,
say Hands, ‘in our headlong chase through a fugue
for three voices, you heard a fourth voice naming
divisions of silence. We’ll summon
that voice once again, it may tell you
of marvels wrung from sorrow endured’.
‘We have seen’, say Eyes, ‘how in Venice
the steps of churches open and close
like marble fans under water’.
‘You can rot in your sockets’, the Captain cries.
‘I have children’, says Body, haloed
in tenderness, firm in ripeness still.
‘I grew gross with their stress, I went spinning
in a vortex of pain. I gave my breast
and its beauty to nourish their heedless growth.
They jump on my shadow in mischievous joy.
On their lives your astonishing sorrows
flow easy as water on marble steps’.
‘Lass sie betteln gehn!‘ roars the Captain
in his dear love’s tongue, as he gulps
from his flagon of grief.
‘You servants, you things,
stand up there! You with the aging choir-boy face,
and you with your facile dexterity, you
with your marble hallucinations, COME!’
Hands, eyes, body keel to the void as the drunken
captain sings in his wilderness of water.
Gwen Harwood (1920 – 1995) was an Australian poet and librettist.