Saturday, May 29, 2010

Godspeed to these ships on the water!

The wind lashed the sea, and the sea lashed the ship;
You steered through the tempest's commotion.
We drink to you, Captain, and lift the glass high;
We'll meet again on this ocean.

No Lloyds would insure your small, secret craft
Nor the perilous course it wages;
But though in the Atlas no record be kept,
We'll chart it in history's pages.

This frail, hidden fleet, grey and silent, will be
The subject of song and story;
And many a captain who hears of the tale
Will envy you, Captain, your glory.

A toast to the darkness that swooped on the ship,
And crouched on the long lights that sought her;
Oh, Captain, Godspeed to the small wooden boats,
Godspeed to these ships on the water!

A toast to the lads that took up the fight
And made it their people's Trafalgar;
They turn each frail ship to a mailed man-of-war;
The ship is of steel - it will conquer!

Years to come - you'll be sipping a glass of mulled wine,
Or quaffing a draught that is stronger;
Then you'll smile, draw your pipe, and shake your grey head,
And think of the days you were younger.

You'll remember past deeds, and say to your friends:
"I've seen much, but Santa Maria,
I'll never forget the night of the chase
When we sped on towards Naharia."

Then you'll hear an answering message from us:
"The gates of the land are flung wide:
This was done by the lads who clambered aboard
In that storm, that terror, that tide"

Then you'll chuckle and whisper: "So nothing availed;
Nor radar, not giant lights beaming;
Not even the cruisers..." You'll finish your glass
And fall again to your dreaming.

That's how it will be; so comrades plunge bold
To the heart of the tempest's commotion
Oh, Captain, Godspeed to the small wooden boats
Godspeed to these ships on the ocean.

This poem was written by Nathan Alterman 65 years ago, in honor of an Italian sea captain named Ansaldo.

In December 1945, Ansaldo undertook an illegal and dangerous voyage to the shores of this country, pitting a small, rickety, unarmed boat against the might of the British Navy. Ansaldo undertook this enterprise out of a feeling of deep sympathy and solidarity with a small people which had known a great deal of suffering and oppression. He had gone to help this people break open the locked gates of the sea, to achieve “their right to be a small independent people at the shore of the great Mediterranean sea” (Ansaldo quoted by CJC).

As these lines are written, today - Saturday, May 29, 2010 - the heirs of Ansaldo are sailing the very same sea, en route to the shores of Gaza.

Original text as published in the Canadian Jewish Chronicle - Aug 23, 1946

Update about the boats en route today