Black and sombre on dark water
The old boats ride at anchor
Living out their final days.
Upon the bridge , the biting wind of March
Seems fitting setting in late afternoon
For ghostly crews who sailed the seas
In small and fragile ships like these.
No flags fly now and no bells ring;
No coloured paint now shines.
Left to wind and weather
They measure their existence by the tides
Which rise in Hamburg harbour.
Museum of naval history! a mausoleum –
But redolent of spacious days
when sails and steam were all
This graveyard of proud boats
Once latest of their line.
spend now a turgid life, like undead zombies,
with impressive and astounding power
To make us wonder.
Looking down, I seem to see the long dead men
who haunt the decks,
move soundlessly along the passages,
ascend the silent stairs –
their corporeal bodies an age
beneath salt or soil.
Sacred ships! Spiritual life is yours!
Alone with memories, they gather in a corner
of the harbour, like sentinels
still bold and living testimony
to their noble past.
Relics of old glories!
Creating a remembrance of former ages
when after years` long voyages
they scoured the oceans
sloughing into troughs and climbing crests –
happy to see the land.
Embodied souls, how often did they then rejoice?
How often “Land Ahoy”?
From the undiscovered country these travellers return;
they surely with the stars look down: see tempests rage
and becalmed seas, where pleasure in the task well done
is mixed with daily toil.
A vanished world but not forgotten!
when discipline was harsh, but tempered
by the recompense of comradeship: shared pai and joy
when God was in his heaven.
The shadows of the setting sun grow longer;
down there, amid the shadows, are some other shades
of men unaging, tried and tested by the elements,
who knew no other life (or death)
who hear still the sea-wind call
who, while their boats yet float,
attend , in dedication to their ancient tasks.”

© A.B. Finlay Ph.D