Friday, October 12, 2012

POETRY BREAK #10: "OLD SHIPS" by David Morton

Albie's note:  I first encountered this great sonnet in a collection of American Verse that I perused in college back in the 1980s.  I was immediately struck by its subject matter and profound-- and perhaps deceptive-- simplicity.

I can't find a lot of info on the the poet except to relate the following:   David H. Morton was a fairly popular American "mid-western" poet. Born in in 1886 in Elkton, Kentucky, he graduated from Vanderbilt University in 1909. After a decade of newspaper work, starting at the Louisville Courier-Journal, he became a teacher in the high school at Morristown, New Jersey. Beginning in 1924, he also taught at Amherst College. His work appeared notably and repeatedly in Harper's Magazine, at the time a very prestigious venue for any American Poet.  He died on June 13, 1957.  Editor Jesse Rittenhouse wrote that Morton was "one of the finest sonneteers of this period and a poet of rare and authentic gifts." 

[UPDATE, 10-15-12: After initially posting this, I finally found a picture of the poet-- shown below-- at the University Of Louisville's website.  Isn't it cool? Ol' Professor Morton liked a good cigar, apparently... and his dawg is way cool, too! --Al]

"Old Ships"
David Morton

THERE is a memory stays upon old ships,

A weightless cargo in the musty hold,—

Of bright lagoons and prow-caressing lips,

Of stormy midnights,—and a tale untold.

They have remembered islands in the dawn, 

And windy capes that tried their slender spars,

And tortuous channels where their keels have gone,

And calm blue nights of stillness and the stars.

Ah, never think that ships forget a shore,

Or bitter seas, or winds that made them wise; 

There is a dream upon them, evermore;—

And there be some who say that sunk ships rise

To seek familiar harbors in the night,

Blowing in mists, their spectral sails like light.

From The Second Book of Modern Verse:  A Selection from the Work of Contemporaneous American Poets , Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company 1920, edited by Jessie B. Rittenhouse.


This great sonnett is also included in Morton's own collection Ships In Harbor, 1920:


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