A baron of the sea, the great tropic
swordfish, spreadeagled on the thirsty deck
where sailors killed him, in the bright Pacific
yielded to the sharp enquiring blade
the eye which guided him and found his prey
in the dim country where he was a lord;
which is an instrument forged in semi-darkness
yet taken from the corpse of this strong traveller
becomes a powerful enlarging glass
reflecting the unusual sun’s heat.
With it a sailor writes on the hot wood
the name of a harlot in his last port.
For it is one most curious device
of many, kept by the interesting waves—
and I suppose the querulous soft voice
of mariners who rotted into ghosts
digested by the gluttonous tides
could recount many. Let them be your hosts
and take you where their forgotten ships lie
with fishes going over the tall masts—
all this emerges from the burning eye.
And to engrave that word the sun goes through
with the power of the sea,
writing her name and a marvel too.
Linney Head, Wales, [May] 1941
‘The Marvel’ is taken from Keith Douglas’ Keith Douglas: The Complete Poems.