The Ship of Death



Now it is autumn and the falling fruit

and the long journey towards oblivion.


The apples falling like great drops of dew

to bruise themselves an exit from themselves.


5And it is time to go, to bid farewell

to one's own self, and find an exit

from the fallen self.




Have you built your ship of death, O have you?

O build your ship of death, for you will need it.


10The grim frost is at hand, when the apples will fall

thick, almost thundrous, on the hardened earth.


And death is on the air like a smell of ashes!

Ah! can't you smell it?


And in the bruised body, the frightened soul

15finds itself shrinking, wincing from the cold

that blows upon it through the orifices.




And can a man his own quietus make

with a bare bodkin?


With daggers, bodkins, bullets, man can make

20a bruise or break of exit for his life;

but is that a quietus, O tell me, is it quietus?


Surely not so! for how could murder, even self-murder

ever a quietus make?




O let us talk of quiet that we know,

25that we can know, the deep and lovely quiet

of a strong heart at peace!


How can we this, our own quietus, make?



Build then the ship of death, for you must take

the longest journey, to oblivion.


30And die the death, the long and painful death

that lies between the old self and the new.


Already our bodies are fallen, bruised, badly bruised,

already our souls are oozing through the exit

of the cruel bruise.


35Already the dark and endless ocean of the end

is washing in through the breaches of our wounds,

already the flood is upon us.


Oh build your ship of death, your little ark

and furnish it with food, with little cakes, and wine

40for the dark flight down oblivion.




Piecemeal the body dies, and the timid soul

has her footing washed away, as the dark flood rises.


We are dying, we are dying, we are all of us dying

and nothing will stay the death-flood rising within us

45and soon it will rise on the world, on the outside world.


We are dying, we are dying, piecemeal our bodies are dying

and our strength leaves us,

and our soul cowers naked in the dark rain over the flood,

cowering in the last branches of the tree of our life.




50We are dying, we are dying, so all we can do

is now to be willing to die, and to build the ship

of death to carry the soul on the longest journey.


A little ship, with oars and food

and little dishes, and all accoutrements

55fitting and ready for the departing soul.


Now launch the small ship, now as the body dies

and life departs, launch out, the fragile soul

in the fragile ship of courage, the ark of faith

with its store of food and little cooking pans

60and change of clothes,

upon the flood's black waste

upon the waters of the end

upon the sea of death, where still we sail

darkly, for we cannot steer, and have no port.


65There is no port, there is nowhere to go

only the deepening black darkening still

blacker upon the soundless, ungurgling flood

darkness at one with darkness, up and down

and sideways utterly dark, so there is no direction any more

70and the little ship is there; yet she is gone.

She is not seen, for there is nothing to see her by.

She is gone! gone! and yet

somewhere she is there.





75And everything is gone, the body is gone

completely under, gone, entirely gone.

The upper darkness is heavy as the lower,

between them the little ship

is gone

80she is gone.


It is the end, it is oblivion.




And yet out of eternity a thread

separates itself on the blackness,

a horizontal thread

85that fumes a little with pallor upon the dark.


Is it illusion? or does the pallor fume

A little higher?

Ah wait, wait, for there's the dawn,

the cruel dawn of coming back to life

90out of oblivion.


Wait, wait, the little ship

drifting, beneath the deathly ashy grey

of a flood-dawn.


Wait, wait! even so, a flush of yellow

95and strangely, O chilled wan soul, a flush of rose.


A flush of rose, and the whole thing starts again.



The flood subsides, and the body, like a worn sea-shell

emerges strange and lovely.

And the little ship wings home, faltering and lapsing

100on the pink flood,

and the frail soul steps out, into the house again

filling the heart with peace.


Swings the heart renewed with peace

even of oblivion.


105Oh build your ship of death, oh build it!

for you will need it.

For the voyage of oblivion awaits you.