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Short poem

David Herbert Lawrence (1885-1930)

The Ship of Death

Version 1
              1Now it is autumn and the falling fruit
              2and the long journey towards oblivion.

              3The apples falling like great drops of dew
              4to bruise themselves an exit from themselves.

              5And it is time to go, to bid farewell
              6to one's own self, and find an exit
              7from the fallen self.

              8Have you built your ship of death, O have you?
              9O build your ship of death, for you will need it.

            10The grim frost is at hand, when the apples will fall
            11thick, almost thundrous, on the hardened earth.

            12And death is on the air like a smell of ashes!
            13Ah! can't you smell it?
            14And in the bruised body, the frightened soul
            15finds itself shrinking, wincing from the cold
            16that blows upon it through the orifices.

            17And can a man his own quietus make
            18with a bare bodkin?

            19With daggers, bodkins, bullets, man can make
            20a bruise or break of exit for his life;
            21but is that a quietus, O tell me, is it quietus?

            22Surely not so! for how could murder, even self-murder
            23ever a quietus make?

            24O let us talk of quiet that we know,
            25that we can know, the deep and lovely quiet
            26of a strong heart at peace!

            27How can we this, our own quietus, make?

            28Build then the ship of death, for you must take
            29the longest journey, to oblivion.

            30And die the death, the long and painful death
            31that lies between the old self and the new.

            32Already our bodies are fallen, bruised, badly bruised,
            33already our souls are oozing through the exit
            34of the cruel bruise.

            35Already the dark and endless ocean of the end
            36is washing in through the breaches of our wounds,
            37Already the flood is upon us.

            38Oh build your ship of death, your little ark
            39and furnish it with food, with little cakes, and wine
            40for the dark flight down oblivion.

            41Piecemeal the body dies, and the timid soul
            42has her footing washed away, as the dark flood rises.

            43We are dying, we are dying, we are all of us dying
            44and nothing will stay the death-flood rising within us
            45and soon it will rise on the world, on the outside world.

            46We are dying, we are dying, piecemeal our bodies are dying
            47and our strength leaves us,
            48and our soul cowers naked in the dark rain over the flood,
            49cowering in the last branches of the tree of our life.

            50We are dying, we are dying, so all we can do
            51is now to be willing to die, and to build the ship
            52of death to carry the soul on the longest journey.

            53A little ship, with oars and food
            54and little dishes, and all accoutrements
            55fitting and ready for the departing soul.

            56Now launch the small ship, now as the body dies
            57and life departs, launch out, the fragile soul
            58in the fragile ship of courage, the ark of faith
            59with its store of food and little cooking pans
            60and change of clothes,
            61upon the flood's black waste
            62upon the waters of the end
            63upon the sea of death, where still we sail
            64darkly, for we cannot steer, and have no port.

            65There is no port, there is nowhere to go
            66only the deepening blackness darkening still
            67blacker upon the soundless, ungurgling flood
            68darkness at one with darkness, up and down
            69and sideways utterly dark, so there is no direction any more
            70and the little ship is there; yet she is gone.
            71She is not seen, for there is nothing to see her by.
            72She is gone! gone! and yet
            73somewhere she is there.

            75And everything is gone, the body is gone
            76completely under, gone, entirely gone.
            77The upper darkness is heavy as the lower,
            78between them the little ship
            79is gone

            80It is the end, it is oblivion.

            81And yet out of eternity a thread
            82separates itself on the blackness,
            83a horizontal thread
            84that fumes a little with pallor upon the dark.

            85Is it illusion? or does the pallor fume
            86A little higher?
            87Ah wait, wait, for there's the dawn
            88the cruel dawn of coming back to life
            89out of oblivion

            90Wait, wait, the little ship
            91drifting, beneath the deathly ashy grey
            92of a flood-dawn.

            93Wait, wait! even so, a flush of yellow
            94and strangely, O chilled wan soul, a flush of rose.

            95A flush of rose, and the whole thing starts again.

            96The flood subsides, and the body, like a worn sea-shell
            97emerges strange and lovely.
            98And the little ship wings home, faltering and lapsing
            99on the pink flood,
          100and the frail soul steps out, into the house again
          101filling the heart with peace.

          102Swings the heart renewed with peace
          103even of oblivion.

          104Oh build your ship of death. Oh build it!
          105for you will need it.
          106For the voyage of oblivion awaits you.

Version 2 ('Ship of Death')
              1I sing of autumn and the falling fruit
              2and the long journey towards oblivion.

              3The apples falling like great drops of dew
              4to bruise themselves an exit from themselves.

              5Have you built your ship of death, oh, have you?
              6Build then your ship of death, for you will need it!

              7Can man his own quietus make
              8with a bare bodkin?

              9With daggers, bodkins, bullets, man can make
            10a bruise or break of exit for his life
            11but is that a quietus, oh tell me, is it quietus?

            12Quietus is the goal of the long journey
            13the longest journey towards oblivion.

            14Slips out the soul, invisible one, wrapped still
            15in the white shirt of the mind's experiences
            16and folded in the dark-red, unseen
            17mantle of the boays still mortal memories.

            18Frightened and alone, the soul slips out of the house
            19or is pushed out
            20to find himself on the crowded, and margins of existence.

            21Oh, it is not so easy, I tell you it is not so easy
            22to set softly forth on the longest journey, the longest journey.

            23The margins, the grey beaches of shadow
            24strewn with dim wreckage, and crowded with crying souls
            25that lie outside the silvery walls of our body's builded city.

            26It is easy to be pushed out of the silvery city of the body
            27through any breach in the wall,
            28thrust out on to the grey grey beaches of shadow
            29the long marginal stretches of existence, crowded with lost souls
            30that intervene between tower and the shaking sea of the beyond.

            31Oh build your ship of death, oh build it in time
            32and build it lovingly, and put it between the hands of your soul.

            33Once outside the gate of the walled silvery life of days
            34once outside, upon the grey marsh beaches, where lost souls moan
            35in millions, unable to depart
            36having no boat to launch upon the shaken, soundless
            37deepest and longest of seas,
            38once outside the gate
            39what will you do, if you have no ship of the soul?

            40Oh pity the dead that are dead, but cannot take
            41the journey, still they moan and beat
            42against the silvery adamant walls of this our exclusive existence.
            43They moan and beat, they gnash, they rage
            44they fall upon the new outcoming souls with rage
            45and they send arrows of anger, bullets and bombs of frustration
            46over the adamant walls of this, our by-no-means impregnable existence.

            47Pity, oh pity the poor dead that are only ousted from life
            48and crowd there on the grey mud beaches of the margins
            49gaunt and horrible
            50waiting, waiting till at last the ancient boatman with the common barge
            51shall take them aboard, towards the great goal of oblivion.

            52Pity the poor gaunt dead that cannot die
            53into the distance with receding oars
            54but must roam like outcast dogs on the margins of life,
            55and think of them, and with the soul's deep sigh
            56waft nearer to them the bark of delivery.

            57But for myself, but for my soul, dear soul
            58let me build a little ship with oars and food
            59and little dishes, and all accoutrements
            60dainty and ready for the departing soul.

            61And put it between the hands of the trembling soul.
            62So that when the hour comes, and the last door closes behind him
            63he shall slip down the shores invisible
            64between the half-visible hordes
            65to where the furthest and the longest sea
            66touches the margins of our life's existence
            67with wincing unwilling waves.

            68And launching there his little ship,
            69wrapped in the dark-red mantle of the body's memories
            70the little, slender soul sits swiftly down, and takes the oars
            71and draws away, away, away, towards the dark depths
            72fathomless deep ahead, far, far from the grey shores
            73that fringe with shadow all this world's existence.

            74Over the sea, over the farthest sea
            75on the longest journey
            76past the jutting rocks of shadow
            77past the lurking, octopus arms of agonised memory
            78past the strange whirlpools of remembered greed
            79through the dead weed of a life-time's falsity,
            80slow, slow my soul, in his little ship
            81on the most soundless of all seas
            82taking the longest journey.

            83Pulling the long oars of a life-time's courage
            84drinking the confident water from the little jug
            85and eating the brave bread of a wholesome knowledge
            86row, little soul, row on
            87on the longest journey, towards the greatest goal

            88Neither straight nor crooked, neither here nor there
            89but shadows folded on deeper shadows
            90and deeper, to a core of sheer oblivion
            91like the convolutions of shadow-shell
            92or deeper, like the foldings and involvings of a womb.

            93Drift on, drift on, my soul, towards the most pure
            94most dark oblivion.
            95And at the penultimate porches, the dark-red mantle
            96of the body's memories slips and is absorbed
            97into the shell-like, womb-like convoluted shadow.

            98And round the great final bend of unbroken dark
            99the skirt of the spirit's experience has melted away
          100the oars have gone from the boat, and the little dishes
          101gone, gone, and the boat dissolves like pearl
          102as the soul at last slips perfect into the goal, the core
          103of sheer oblivion and of utter peace,
          104the womb of silence in the living night.

          105Ah peace, ah lovely peace, most lovely lapsing
          106of this my soul into the plasm of peace.

          107Oh lovely last, last lapse of death, into pure oblivion
          108at the end of the longest journey
          109peace, complete peace!
          110But can it be that also it is procreation?

          111Oh build your ship of death
          112oh build it!
          113Oh, nothing matters but the longest journey.


1.17] See Shakespeare's Hamlet III.i.69-32):

For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
Th' oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,
The pangs of despis'd love, the law's delay,
The insolence of office, and the spurns
That patient merit of th' unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin ...

2.23] Lines omitted in Last Poems and inserted by Vivian de Sola Pinto and F. Warren Roberts in their definitive Complete Poems (Penguin, 1993): 961, note on 1042. In doing so, they emend "that" (line 23) to "the".

Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: D. H. Lawrence, Last Poems, ed. Richard Aldington (London: Martin Secker, 1933): 60-64 (MS "A"), 173-77 (MS "B," dated Nov. 23, 1928). PR 6023 A93 A17 Robarts Library
First publication date: 1933
Publication date note: See Roberts A62
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: RPO 2000.
Recent editing: 4:2002/1/12

Composition date: 26 August 1929 - November 1929
Composition date note: See Ellis, 603
Form: Free Verse

Other poems by David Herbert Lawrence