I never told you this.
He told me about it often:
Seven days in an open boat – burned out,
No time to get food:
Biscuits and water and the unwanted sun,
With only the oars’ wing-beats for motion,
Labouring heavily towards land
That existed on a remembered chart,
Never on the horizon
Seven miles from the boat’s bow.
After two days song dried on their lips;
After four days speech.
On the fifth cracks began to appear
In the faces’ masks; salt scorched them,/
They began to think about death,
Each man to himself, feeding it
On what the rest could not conceal.
The sea was as empty as the sky,
A vast disc under a dome
Of the same vastness, perilously blue.
But on the sixth day towards evening
A bird passed. No one slept that night;
The boat had become an ear
Straining for the desired thunder
Of the wrecked waves. It was dawn when it came,
Ominous as the big guns
Of enemy shores. The men cheered it.
From the swell’s rise one of them saw the ruins
Of all that sea, where a lean horseman
Rode towards them and with a rope
Galloped them up on to the curt sand.
by R. S. Thomas
from The Bread of Truth (1963)
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