The Great EasternA Poem by David Lewis Paget
The bones of the great and troubled ship
Lay under a greying sky,
I'd travelled on up to
To see the monster die,
The wreckers were ripping the hull apart,
Were opening wounds of old,
Not only the bones of a rusty ship
But the bones of a tale untold!
My mind went back those thirty years
To the time when we built the ship,
When I was a poor, young riveter,
Just out on my maiden trip,
I'd found some digs in Millwall,
Right down in the Isle of Dogs,
In a miasma of mist and fogs.
I moved on in with Ted and Jane,
The Lamptreys they were called,
He was a man of forty years,
She was just twenty four,
But Ted was grim and serious,
While Jane was as light as froth,
While he was around, he held her down,
I thought her a fluttering moth.
She'd laugh and dance, and prance around
When Ted was not at home,
He liked his pint of Guinness Stout,
His beer, a head of foam,
He said that he'd worked a mighty thirst
For Isambard Brunel,
Whose dream of the great Leviathan
Rose up from the depths of hell.
I got me a job with Ted down there,
Riveting iron plates,
That ship was the first with a double hull
With an inner working space,
We belted the red-hot rivets in
And flattened the ends across,
We'd work in pairs, and the light was scarce
In the depths of that albatross.
Whenever old Ted would seek the pub
I'd go on home to Jane,
I thought that she must have feelings,
But the love that I felt was pain,
For I never dared to voice it, though
She must have looked in my eyes,
To see the way that my feelings lay
It was way beyond disguise.
Then Ted had begun to drink too much,
He said it was getting him down,
All he could hear were the hammers,
Hammers, belting his head around.
They chimed all day in his weary head
They rang all night in his sleep,
Drowned out the sound of our laughter
Like an echo relayed from the deep.
He belted Jane and he made her cry
While I had nothing to say,
I thought that I couldn't come in-between
A man and his wife that way,
She saw my eyes, and they said it all,
I'd sit, and begin to grieve,
I just couldn't bear the thought that he
Might say that I had to leave!
The Eastern Company went bust,
Went broke in '56,
And we were all laid off, until
The finances were fixed,
We spent some terrible weeks at home,
Living on toast and tea,
Wondering how to pay the rent
And arguing constantly.
They hired us back, began again,
But Ted and I were sour,
For Jane had begun to talk to me,
Ignored him by the hour,
We worked down deep in the hull this time
But spoke not a friendly word,
With just the clash of the hammers as
The heat of our tempers soared.
He worked inside, in the inner space
As I beat the rivets in,
He'd disappear in the iron walls
To the clash of the hammer's din,
My mind began to play me tricks,
My hammer felt like lead,
And then as he peered on out one day,
I hit him across the head.
He fell back into that inner space
With neither a scream, nor curse,
I knew if I pulled him out again
There'd be calls for a horse and hearse.
I fitted a whole new iron plate
And riveted it in place,
Wiped the blood from my hammer,
And the sweat from my trembling face.
That night, I told poor Jane I'd left him
Outside the Crown and Heart,
She didn't say much 'til when
He hadn't returned to the hearth,
For days, she hurried around to seek
Her husband in every lane,
But only I knew the reason why
He'd never come home again!
For months, I hoped and I prayed that
She would fall in my loving arms,
And weep her sorrows away with me
While sharing some of her charms.
But Jane was bitter and fretful, she
Would glare at me in the dark,
And nothing would raise her spirits now,
The light had gone from her spark.
The ship had neared completion when
I offered my hand to her,
'You must have guessed that I love you, Jane?'
She turned on me with a curse.
'You think to replace my husband? Hah!
I wouldn't take you on a whim,
For Ted was really my one true love,
I'll keep myself true to him!'
The ship was launched, and I left that place,
I signed as one of the crew,
I'd killed a man for a dream, like sand
That had trickled my fingers through.
I dreamt that Ted was alive, not dead
And clanking his length of chain,
In the bowels of Brunel's Great Eastern
And calling me out, by name!
That ship was cursed from the day it launched,
When one of the boilers blew,
As it crossed the Atlantic swell it lost
A paddle-wheel or two,
The rudder snapped at the iron post,
A reef put her in tow,
I knew full well that the hounds of hell
Were trapped there, down below!
I'm old and tired, as I watch the iron
Now stripped from the Eastern's side,
When suddenly there's a shout goes up:
'There's a skeleton inside!'
Now back in my lonely boarding house
I write this in despair,
In death, he waits with a hammer of hate,
Ted clanks his chains down there!
David Lewis Paget
© 2012 David Lewis Paget
David Lewis Paget
Moonta, South Australia, Australia
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