The Ballad of the Ship’s Captain
“What would happen if someone were to choose the captains of ships by their wealth, refusing to entrust the ship to a poor person even if he was a better captain?
They would make a poor voyage of it.”
(from a conversation between Plato, Socrates and Adeimantus in ‘The Republic’)
The ship itself had been in good shape,
but oh my love, the new Captain. The new Captain
came aboard in a ticker tape swarm,
and I’d swear it’s ermine he was wrapped in.
The ship itself had had a decent crew.
They’d pulled together for years. For years
their course had been reasonably true, through storm
and war and hunger and fears
but the Captain, the Captain was a high, proud man
chosen on account of his wealth. His wealth,
my love, was his master plan. He cared
nothing for crew, or their welfare and health.
His only concern? That the ship travelled faster,
that the crew was kept in its place. Its place
was enforced, as slaves to a master, with bared
steel and guns, bandied close to the face.
It was mutiny, mutiny, played out back to front
by a man who’d never suffered the sea. The sea
ate his sense; we felt the brunt. The hair triggers
of a sociopath’s glee.
The Captain, the Captain, brought in his lawyers
to manage stores, navigation, the rig. The rig
became rotten after sawyers and riggers
dissented and were thrown in the brig
The Captain, the Captain, just didn’t give a damn.
The trickle-down we got was salt water. Salt water
isn’t something you should cram into mouths
unless you intend a slow slaughter.
It didn’t matter in the end. The ship ran aground
on an island unseen by the lawyers. The lawyers
who’d argued for three different souths,
not one of which was their employer’s.
The Captain, the Captain, drowned with his gold,
frothing and crying and swearing. And, swearing
allegiance to each other in the hold, we paddled
to the shore; survived by scrimping and sharing.
But the Captain, my love, he had many heirs
and rich men who followed his lead. His lead
was idiotic, left our affairs saddled
in thrall to the thrill of his greed.
These Captains, these Captains know little else
but boarding school’s compassionless bite. Less bite,
and more brute; tightening our belts not theirs.
A fine way of picking a fight.
Whether leading a nation or a ship on the seas
a Captain should be bound by a tether. A tether
to the many, not plutocracy’s heirs,
so we’re truly all in this together.
Adam Horovitz’s debut collection, Turning (Headland), came out in 2011 and A Thousand Laurie Lees (History Press) was released in 2014. He is Poet in Residence for Herefordshire.