Life on the Ocean Wave
Poetry, music and readings reflecting on the nautical life, including words by Masefield, Melville, Homer and Hardy, and music by Britten, Mendelssohn, Purcell and Tom Waits. Read by Lesley Sharp and John Shrapnel.
Timings (where shown) are from the start of the programme in hours and minutes
Sea Shell, read by Lesley Sharp
Paul Laurence Dunbar
A Sailors Song, read by John Shrapnel
George Gordon, Lord Byron
Letter to his mother (excerpt), read by John Shrapnel
Port of Holy Peter, read by John Shrapnel
Homeward bound, read by John Shrapnel
Percy Bysshe Shelley
Letter to John Gisborne (excerpt), read by John Shrapnel
Homer, translated by George Chapman
The Odyssey (excerpt), read by John Shrapnel
Far-off shore, read by Lesley Sharp
The Sea-ritual, ready by Lesley Sharp
Jerome K. Jerome
Three men in a boat (excerpt), read by John Shrapnel
The Jumblies, read by Lesley Sharp
Moby-Dick (excerpt), read by John Shrapnel
The Convergence of the twain (Lines on the loss of the Titanic), read by Lesley Sharp
Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Ulysses (excerpt), ready by Lesley Sharp
Producer's NoteIt should be easy shouldn’t it? So much poetry and prose, so many songs and shanties, such a wealth of material to celebrate the way we used to get around the world in the thousands of years before trains, planes and cars came along. And with Britain’s long tradition of naval prowess firing the imaginations of English-speaking scribblers and songsters of all competencies, there wasn’t much chance that I’d be left rifling around for content.
Perhaps, indeed, there is too much, even after the firm demarcation has been made that this programme is not about the sea, but about people sailing around on it. For I’m only too conscious of how much has had to be left out of my allocated 75 minutes: there is, for instance, no Hornblower or Patrick O’Brian, no gallant sea-battles or Ancient Mariners, no Viking sagas or Renaissance explorers, no idyllic South Sea sojourns, no pirates and no sea-monsters.
In the end, I have chosen music and words that deal with certain more or less inevitable aspects of sea travel: setting out, returning home, suffering rough weather, getting bored, feeling sea-sick, dreading a watery grave. The anticipatory excitement of a sea voyage is stoked in poems by Amy Lowell and Paul Laurence Dunbar, in Rimsky-Korsakov’s rolling portrait of Sinbad in his ship and in John Ireland’s setting of Masefield’s famous Sea Fever. That such a trip may not always live up to expectation is shown in Masefield’s ‘Port of Holy Peter’ and the agonising homesickness and ennui of Tom Waits’s Shore leave. And the bawdy joys of the homeward journey are depicted in DH Rogers’s ‘Homeward Bound’.
The terrors of the storm are evoked in a rollicking psalm-setting by Purcell, a snatch of Chapman’s Homer and Britten’s frantic orchestral interlude from Peter Grimes, while a possible aftermath is shown in sombre poems by Herman Melville and George Darley, and in one of the loveliest English 18th-century melodies, Charles Dibdin’s Tom Bowling.
Two celebrations of less enthusiastic sailors by Jerome K. Jerome and Gilbert and Sullivan are followed by Edward Lear’s delightful and unexpectedly expert mariners, the Jumblies. Folksinger-songwriter Chris Wood’s homage to Darwin reminds us that voyages of discovery can open up the intellect as well as the world. And if there are no sea-battles, we still get to see Captain Ahab wrestling in spirit with Moby-Dick, while Hardy describes the Titanic encountering its own cold-hearted nemesis in ‘Convergence of the twain’.
We end, however, on a note of optimism, as Mendelssohn’s Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage returns us home once more, and a beautiful passage from Tennyson’s Ulysses transforms the act of setting to sea into a vision of hope for a better world. And we could all do with that.
""Added, go to My Music