In his series of maritime inspired poems by the talented Dublin poet Daniel Wade, the story of Edward Bransfield, a Cork-born sailing master who first sighted the Antarctic mainland on January 30th, 1820.
He was still in his prime
and serving as pilot on board
a whaling brig called the Williams.
He’d pace the deck long after the others
had turned in for the night, as if engaging
in some private communion
with the sea-air and the damp, untouched
blackness through which his vessel ghosted.
His crewmates let him be when he did this,
knowing full well his leader’s need
They didn’t know where exactly they were going,
or what miracles they might discover.
They weren’t even sure what their captain hoped to achieve.
Naval registers and ledgers
identified him as British,
and confirmed that in his years of service
during both mercantile and military voyages
he’d held the rank of midshipman and master’s mate,
after starting as an able seaman
and working his way up to a second master:
a man well-versed in seaborne hierarchies.
He carried his spyglass and compass
with him at all times,
even when visibility was greatly diminished
fore-and-aft and the ship was forced
to drop anchor amid the ice.
He only slept when absolutely necessary,
two to three hours at most,
preferring the cold to the lamplit warmth
of his cabin, as if familiarising himself
with the hostile conditions and terrain
he was charged with surveying.
He found himself more compelled
by the silence that immediately follows
the end of an especially tender piece of music.
His medals hung quietly in a cabinet.
The ensign lost its splendour.
Ship’s grog tasted like scrub-water.
He was a native of Cork,
a reliable navigator and helmsman
in a Navy that boasted of ruling the waves.
He rarely dwelled on his previous voyages,
and had quite forgotten the names
of each and every ship he’d served on.
He did not plan on retiring from the sea
for at least another decade,
and on the 30th of January Anno Domini
1820, Edward Bransfield
first sighted the Antarctic continent.
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.