Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Bring me that horizon

Isn't it always the way of things?

Once you become aware of something, you see or find much more of it.

The same goes for my discovery of romanticism

And although I don't quite remember when it happened, George also introduced me to a poem that, although it had long been sitting in a book on the shelves at home, I had never read. But after the acquaintance of some years, it still sends goosebumps up and down my spine – and perhaps my lifelong fascination with the sea reveals some sort of comprehension of what this Brecht poem describes?

Last year, when we were holidaying in the south of France, we took a boat trip and sat on the open-top deck.

It sped easily from Collioure to Argelès sur Mer, but after leaving that harbour, ran straight into what seemed to me to be really rather big waves. Sitting on top of the boat accentuated the movement as we bounced around. My knuckles were white as I gripped the rail. The spray hit my face, leaving the tang and taste of salt.

I had to consciously unclench my gut and open myself to the experience. 'Breathe ... breathe ... and embrace it.' When I did, it was utterly exhilarating.

As I said yesterday – fear is relative. And dealing with fear is relative too.

The year before, we'd been out twice on the traditional sailing schooner, the Treguern. It hadn't been anything like as choppy, but it was an equally intense experience: as we got further out to sea, everyone on board were silent. The only sounds were the water itself, lap lapping, the seabirds crying and the rattling of the rigging against the masts. Azure above, cobalt below; breeze in your hair and sun on your skin. A cornucopia of sensual experience.

Brecht's poem evokes a very alluring idea of freedom – not least the freedom from fear. A sense of abandon that allows the experience of life at its fullest, at its most intense, and devil take the consequences.

Perhaps part of the reason for the success of the Pirates of the Caribbean films is that they manage to at least hint at what Brecht explores? (The heading on this post is a quote from the second of those films)

Is 'civilisation' a sort of barrier between us and the fullest experience of life?

Anyway, enjoy.


Ballade von den Seeräubern (Ballad of the Pirates)

Frantic with brandy from their plunder
Drenched in the blackness of the gale
Splintered by frost and stunned by thunder
Hemmed in the crows-nest, ghostly pale
Scorched by the sun through tattered shirt
(The winter sun kept them alive)
Amid starvation, sickness, dirt
So sang the remnant that survived:
Oh heavenly sky of streaming blue!
Enormous wind, the sails blow free!
Let wind and heavens go hang! But oh
Sweet Mary, let us keep the sea!

No waving fields with gentle breezes
Or dockside bar with raucous band
No dance hall warm with gin and kisses
No gambling hall kept them on land.
They very quickly tired of fighting
By midnight girls began to pall:
Their rotten hulk seemed more inviting
That ship without a flag at all.
Oh heavenly sky of streaming blue!
Enormous wind, the sails blow free!
Let wind and heavens go hang! But oh
Sweet Mary, let us keep the sea!

Riddled with rats, its bilges oozing
With pestilence and puke and piss
They swear by her when they're out boozing
And cherish her just as she is.
In storms they'll reckon their position
Lashed to the halyards by their hair:
They'd go to heaven on one condition -
That she can find a mooring there.
Oh heavenly sky of streaming blue!
Enormous wind, the sails blow free!
Let wind and heavens go hang! But oh
Sweet Mary, let us keep the sea!

They loot their wine and belch with pleasure
While bales of silk and bars of gold
And precious stones and other treasure
Weigh down the rat-infested hold.
To grace their limbs, all hard and shrunken
Sacked junks yield vari-coloured stuffs
Till out their knives come in some drunken
Quarrel about a pair of cuffs.
Oh heavenly sky of streaming blue!
Enormous wind, the sails blow free!
Let wind and heavens go hang! But oh
Sweet Mary, let us keep the sea!

They murder coldly and detachedly
Whatever comes across their path
They throttle gullets as relaxedly
As fling a rope up to the mast.
At wakes they fall upon the liquor
Then stagger overboard and drown
While the remainder give a snigger
And wave a toe as they go down.
Oh heavenly sky of streaming blue!
Enormous wind, the sails blow free!
Let wind and heavens go hang! But oh
Sweet Mary, let us keep the sea!

Across a violet horizon
Caught in the ice by pale moonlight
On pitch-black nights when mist is rising
And half the ship is lost from sight
They lurk like wolves between the hatches
And murder for the fun of it
And sing to keep warm in their watches
Like children drumming as they shit.
Oh heavenly sky of streaming blue!
Enormous wind, the sails blow free!
Let wind and heavens go hang! But oh
Sweet Mary, let us keep the sea!

They take their hairy bellies with them
To stuff with food on foreign ships
Then stretch them out in sweet oblivion
Athwart the foreign women's hips.
In gentle winds, in blue unbounded
Like noble beasts they graze and play
And often seven bulls have mounted
Some foreign girl they've made their prey.
Oh heavenly sky of streaming blue!
Enormous wind, the sails blow free!
Let wind and heavens go hang! But oh
Sweet Mary, let us keep the sea!

Once you have danced till you're exhausted
And boozed until your belly sags
Though sun and moon unite their forces -
Your appetite for fighting flags.
Brilliant with stars, the night will shake them
While music plays in gentle ease
And wind will fill their sails and take them
To other undiscovered seas.
Oh heavenly sky of streaming blue!
Enormous wind, the sails blow free!
Let wind and heavens go hang! But oh
Sweet Mary, let us keep the sea!

But then upon an April evening
Without a star by which to steer
The placid ocean, softly heaving
Decides that they must disappear.
The boundless sky they love is hiding
The stars in smoke that shrouds their sight
While their beloved winds are sliding
The clouds towards the gentle light.
Oh heavenly sky of streaming blue!
Enormous wind, the sails blow free!
Let wind and heavens go hang! But oh
Sweet Mary, let us keep the sea!

At first they're fanned by playful breezes
Into the night they mustn't miss
The velvet sky smiles once, then closes
Its hatches on the black abyss.
Once more they feel the kindly ocean
Watching beside them on their way
The wind then lulls them with its motion
And kills them all by break of day.
Oh heavenly sky of streaming blue!
Enormous wind, the sails blow free!
Let wind and heavens go hang! But oh
Sweet Mary, let us keep the sea!

Once more the final wave is tossing
The cursed vessel to the sky
When suddenly it clears, disclosing
The mighty reef on which they lie.
And, at last, a strange impression
While rigging screams and storm winds howl
Of voices hurtling to perdition
Yet once more singing, louder still:
Oh heavenly sky of streaming blue!
Enormous wind, the sails blow free!
Let wind and heavens go hang! But oh
Sweet Mary, let us keep the sea!

Bertolt Brecht, 1919

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