Poems from the Coast | Captain Robert Halpin

Poems from the Coast | A Maritime Poetry Series

The latest in our series of maritime inspired poems by Daniel Wade. Captain Robert Halpin was one of Ireland’s maritime legends who captained the Great Eastern in it’s quest to connect the Old and the New World with the first transatlantic cable.


Captain Robert Halpin 

I, master mariner, twice shipwrecked, need only

inhale a shoreward breeze humming stiffly

through the ratlines, to intuit old uproars:

her rudder’s sodden chant foaming at the swell,

my drowned orders, a gaudy fresco

of signal flags, the bilges’ endless haemorrhage.

It is true, it is true: I have loved the naked seaway

without being martyred by its gall.

My spyglass, brass-patented, was inherited

from an uncle or a grand-relative to soak up horizon

and hemisphere, alert for shoals, cliffs

purified in the worth of salt. By my captaincy,

each copper, tangled mile of cable was hooked

to the seafloor’s mud, in order that tidings

be passed on with the expedience of speech

from Kerry to Newfoundland, parallel to the equator,

girdling the globe’s watery circumference.

And when the line first broke and sank to perfidious

depths, I ordered the ship turned around, her paddle

wheels to churn in soaked volume, in order

that our soul-sapping task be complete. Years now

since Mr. Brunel collapsed on her well-walked deck, his last

last cigar’s flavour still spicing his teeth. She’d be

his towering epitaph, her iron darkness heavy as ruin

and condemned from the start. But her years of soot-raked

flame boiled ultimately down to a bulky signboard

for department store wares, rust crisping her slanted

tonnage, her obsidian hull. So let a song of iron and steam

be my grace, just as it was hers, for I sit aloft now

on Tinakilly’s porch with my pipe and tea, the picture

of a country gentleman, content and retired at forty.

A green corner of the world to call home, away

from oceanic unrest: curious ending for one so trained

in the rush of weather. My tools of voyaging, sextant

and pantograph, are of little use now, save as artifacts

in some dry museum. I am lonely as the first man.

I know to watch the Irish Sea from a leisurely skylight, dull

and downwind, high and dry amidst a glare of cloud,

is to brake, slacken off. The first stirrings of night begin

faraway, and come to enclose me eventually. To what arid pit

have I sunk? And do kings, caliphs and czars yield

their limbs, their frosted bones, in the same hushed way?


About Daniel Wade

Daniel Wade is a poet and playwright from Dublin, Ireland. He is a graduate of Dún Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology where he studied English and Journalism.

Check out his website danielwadeauthor.com for more

About the Author

Ann Robinson

Has a passion for coastal heritage and maritime history. Loves sharing the best of the Irish coast online. Contact me ann@coastmonkey.ie or follow me on Twitter @AnnRobinson22