The Stranded Ship (The “Vincennes”)

A poem by Henry Lawson

’Twas the glowing log of a picnic fire where a red light should not be,
Or the curtained glow of a sick room light in a window that faced the sea.
But the Manly lights seemed the Sydney lights, and the bluffs as the “Heads” were seen;
And the Manly beach was the channel then—and the captain steered between.

The croakers said with a shoulder shrug, and a careless, know-all glance:
“You might pull out her stem, or pull out her stern—but she’ll sail no more for France!”
Her stem was dry when the tide was out, and behind her banked the sand,
Where strong gales come from the Hurricane east and the sun sets on the land.

When the tide was high and the rollers struck she shuddered as if in pain,
She had no hope for the open sea and the fair full breeze again.
She turned her side to the pounding seas and the foam glared over the rails,
It seemed her fate to be sold and stripped, and broken by winter gales.

But they sent strong gear, and they sent the gangs, and they sent her a man who knew,
And the tugs came nosing round from the Heads to see what a tug could do;
The four-ton anchors they laid to sea in the waves and the wind and rain,
And the great steel hawser they hove aboard made fast to her cable chain.

And then, while the gaping townsfolk stared from the shining beach in doubt,
The crew and the shore-gangs lowered her yards and they hove the ballast out.
(To lie like a strange sea-grave upheaved on the smooth sand by her side)
And they made all ready and clear for the tugs to come on the rising tide.

And so, in the night when the tide was in and a black sky hid the stars,
The shoremen worked at the jumping winch and the crew at the capstan bars.
To seaward the two tugs rose and fell in their own wild stormy glare
And her head came round for a fathom’s length! for a mighty heave was there.

So, tide by tide, and yard by yard, they hove her off the shore
To fit, and load for her ports of call, and to sail for France once more.
Till at last she came with the wild blind rush of a frightened thing set free,
And they towed her round to the Sydney Heads and in from the stormy sea.

And the croakers say, when a man is down, with a shrug and a know-all glance,
Oh, he’ll never get out of the gutter again, he has done with every chance;
But we’ll “haul and heave on the block and sheeve”, wave-beaten and black-rock hemmed,
And we’ll sail with cargoes that they shall buy, when their ships are all condemned.

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