Monday, April 28, 2014

Digging for Gold at the Library: A Mystery!

(by Gina Bardi, Reference Librarian)

This month I wrote a story about poetry in our collection for both our blog and our Park website. While researching, I came across a delightful find, HDC 35 (SAFR 17607), The Captain Thompson Poems and Illustrations Collection. After seeing his charming drawings, I wanted to learn more about him so I went to the collection files. It turns out, there’s a bit of a mystery surrounding the documents. As far as I can tell, the images and poems were sent to us unsolicited. The name of the donor was not Thompson and apparently they sent the work with no background information. In the file, there are numerous envelopes we sent to the donors asking for more information which were sent back to us marked “return to sender: not at this address”. 

There is a letter in the collection (see below; it’s highly amusing), that may or may not be in the same handwriting as the poems (some letters look similar, some very different, but the letter looks to have been quickly jotted down and perhaps not as much care taken as with the poems.) The letter is signed by an Alec Macson,  Moeson or something like that who purports to be club secretary.  The other gentlemen who signed the letter are sometimes mentioned in the poems. There is no Captain Thompson mentioned in either the letters or the poems.

The ship the author  mentions, is “The good ship Kay” or simply “K”.  I checked the American Bureau of Shipping and Lloyd’s registers in the years around 1914- there are no listing for a ship that begins with K having either a Thompson or a Riess (the man often referred to in the drawings) as a master.  
I checked the California Digital Newspaper Collection for a “Captain Riess” with no luck. There were too many Captain Thompsons to be sure. None of the articles about the various Captain Thompson mentioned poetry or illustrations.

 I have a feeling though the poet is British, due to some of the language in the poems. For instance, sailors are “crossed and crabbed” He also mentions Lobscouse, which is a typical sailor stew common on British ships. Lastly, the uniforms look distinctly British. Perhaps the stripes are just meant to be blue shading?
Here are some of the poems and the letter.  If you recognize the style at all or the names and can tell us anything about this clever and talented author, please let us know.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Happy Poem in Your Pocket Day

(by Heather Hernandez, Technical Services Librarian)

Today is Poem in Your Pocket Day, a special day during National Poetry Month when people select a poem, carry it with them, enjoy it throughout the day and share it with others.

Are you looking for a maritime poem?  There are several from which to choose on our Maritime Poems for Your Pocket site, both classics and parodies, along with some recommended anthologies for further reading.

Don't have a handy printer?  Save the poem to your portable device and carry it around that way!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Maritime Metaphors: Song to the Siren

(by Lisbit Bailey, Archivist and Pop Music Aficionado)

Song to the Siren is a beautiful song written by Tim Buckley (1947- 1975) and Larry Beckett. It was originally released on Buckley's 1970 album Starsailor. The song refers to the Sirens that tempt sailors to their fate from the Greek myth of Jason, the Argonauts and the Golden Fleece. A palpably sad song, it speaks to blind and doomed love that is heartbreakingly bittersweet. An incredibly moving version of this song was performed by Tim Buckley in the last moments of the last episode of The Monkees television series in 1968. (Watch and listen on YouTube.)

Song to the Siren

Long afloat on shipless oceans
I did all my best to smile
'Til your singing eyes and fingers
Drew me loving to your isle

And you sang
Sail to me, sail to me
Let me enfold you
Here I am, here I am
Waiting to hold you

Did I dream you dreamed about me?
Were you hare when I was fox?

Now my foolish boat is leaning

Broken lovelorn on your rocks

For you sing
Touch me not, touch me not
Come back tomorrow
Oh, my heart, oh, my heart
Shies from the sorrow

I am as puzzled as the oyster
I am as troubled at the tide
Should I stand amid the breakers?
Or should I lie with death my bride?

Hear me sing
Swim to me, swim to me
Let me enfold you
Oh, my heart, oh, my heart
Is waiting to hold you

To get you into the swim of things, I’ve selected two books from the Collections at the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park. Enjoy!

The Jason Voyage: the Quest for the Golden Fleece by Timothy Severin

The Odyssey of Homer by Homer; Lattimore, Richmond Alexander, 1906-1984

Monday, April 14, 2014

New in the Library: Ships' altars

(by Heather Hernandez, Technical Services Librarian)

Cover of the Library's copy
A very rare pamphlet on Ships' altars and church spaces on Hamburg-American & North German Lloyd ships is now available in the Library.  Chiefly illustrations of the ships' worship spaces, this small volume of twelve pages published in 1935 also outlines the services available to passengers and crew:

To see more, just contact us!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Digging for Gold at the Library: Poetry in the Archives

(by Gina Bardi, Reference Librarian)

It’s National Poetry Month and I bet you thought I was going to talk about the Rime of the Ancient Mariner or something by John Masefield.  While that would be wholly appropriate it would also be something you have most likely seen before, perhaps even here.  As the purpose of my installments is to dig for things buried deep in the collections for you to see, I had a much better idea. I went into our archives and pulled some poems written by various seafarers and passengers for your enjoyment.  As opposed to the stereotypical idea of a sailor as somewhat brutish and dull, many sailors were curious, intelligent and in tune with the natural world; after all, they depended on a deep knowledge of not just the sea but what was going both above and below it to survive. They had long stretches to contemplate the world around them and their connection to it. It’s no wonder some of them turned to. For instance, here’s a poem by Captain Roy Moyes from HDC 235 (SAFR 17110) expressing the feelings of being becalmed both literally and figuratively.


                Only the sea, motionless in calm
                Only the hope of a stirring breeze;
                There’s naught, but the depth’s alluring charm,
                Rippling reflections in placid seas-
                Only the sails and the dawning sun.
                Only the loss of the foaming run.
                Yet, deep in the soul the sea reflects
                In the light of questing, seeking thoughts
                The cause of its wonderful objects
                The gale, the calm, the loneliness wrought.
                All is still; there is no when, or how-
                Only the presence of the now.

                The day drifts on, and at evening fall
                Golden painted clouds drift idly by:
                The sea lies still; and over it all
                The awe of silence reigns far and nigh.
                Patient we must be, whole darkness hides
                The ship and our fate on the still tides.

Moyes was once the captain of our very own Balclutha, when she was called the Pacific Queen.  Born in Australia to no seafaring parents, Moyes left home at 14 to start a career in the sea, working his way from ordinary seaman to captain. His time spent at sea must have given him much inspiration, for he wrote over 80 poems, many of them long form.  As far as I can tell, none have been published. 

One of my favorite lighter ones is a toast I found written on a scrap of paper in HDC 833, SAFR 8451, The Captain Peter Petersen Papers. Written at the top of the torn sheet is “This poem Miss Bradley had readen (sic) on the bottle when the skiff was launched this summer after she had painted it.”

                Here’s to Peter the Great
                May you ever sail in state
                Should your mistress have a date
                Be sure you’re never late

Image of the manuscript containing the toast

Scribbling on scraps seems to be a popular method of capturing a fleeting poem. We can’t be sure who this was written by, but it was found in the Walter W. Taylor Papers (HDC 1454, SAFR 21896). Taylor (or someone else) took a poem by C. Fox Smith entitled “Racing Clippers: A Wool Fleet Memory” and changed it to make it more personal.

Here’s the text of the Taylor collection poem:

                There ain’t no racin’ clippers now. Nor never will be again.
                And most o’ the ships are gone by now, the same as most of the men.
                Like the ships that made a forest on the ‘Frisco waterside
                The slashing big four masters from the Mersey on the Clyde
                An the Yankee sky’s’l yarders with their plankin’ scoured like snow
                loading grain at ‘Frisco,-- Forty years ago

Image of the manuscript

Another one found in the Taylor collection echoes the above poem with a lament of leaving the sea behind.

                When I was a boy I strolled
                around while the ships were
                outward bound.
                I had no tin to pay for
                gin so I just strolled
                My coat was out at the elbows
                I was hungry and footsore
                So I joined aboard a
                full rigged ship called the
                No more will I go to the sea
                or roam the Western ocean
                a rolling and a bolling
                no more I ever will
                no more will I go to sea
                or roam the western ocean
                As long as I live I’ll stay
                on shore and go to sea more
                no more will I haul on a
                lee fore brace, or by those
                halyards stand.
                no more will I cry as
                aloft I fly with a tar pot
                in my hand.
No more will I swing on
                the big main yard or
                walk the capstan round.
                No more will I trim the
                royals while running the
                Easting down.

 I mentioned passengers as being poets and boy, do I have a doozy of an example for you. In 1849, an unidentified author set sail from Norfolk to San Francisco on the bark the John L. Colley (HDC 27, SAFR 13573). This passenger found the journey so disagreeable, that he wrote a 17 page screed  in verse against the captain, of whom he says, “He was the  mildest manner’d man who ever scuttled ship or cut a throat”.  Here’s the title page so you can see he means business:

Image of the manuscript

That’s a 0 star review if I ever heard one.

I’ll be writing a longer piece about poems in our collection for our website, so be on the lookout. As always, if you’d like to look at any of these poems or the many more in our collection, drop me a line

(Addendum:  For more about poetry in the archives, see Poetry in Ocean.--Ed., Apr. 25, 2014)

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Full fathom five my novel lies

(by Heather Hernandez, Technical Services Librarian)

To celebrate National Poetry Month, we're sharing a recently discovered poem by A. Poppet-Turning.  Devoted readers will remember this poet's Stack Fever, and despite our best efforts, we know nothing about the poet except that work and this newly discovered one, both found tucked into the Library's copy of English maritime books printed before 1801, apparently used as bookmarks.

Clearly a parody of Shakespeare's "Full Fathom Five" (read more about it in our initial blog post), this poem nevertheless conveys the heartbreak experienced by many a maritime reader--seeing your book vanish in "the drink!"

Happy National Poetry Month, and happy April 1!

Full fathom five my novel lies
It fell overboard--just rolled off my thighs!
Nothing of it that did float,
But soaking up water, its pages did bloat
Into something swollen and sunken.
A mystery novel, I should have held tight
But instead on this boat, with it did alight,
And this voyage I must now complete without it,
Not knowing at all if the butler did it.