Friday 12 June 2020

'The first fear...'

Coming across this poem by Kay Ryan, I couldn't help thinking that, although it contains wisdom of far wider application, it also has something interesting to say about the response to the Covid epidemic. We seem to be having a deal of trouble unflattening our raft...

We're Building The Ship As We Sail It
The first fear
being drowning, the
ship’s first shape
was a raft, which
was hard to unflatten
after that didn’t
happen. It’s awkward
to have to do one’s
planning in extremis
in the early years -
so hard to hide later:
sleekening the hull,
making things
more gracious.


  1. Wonderful poem. Thanks, nige!

  2. I noticed another instance of the metaphor, not by a poet but by a philosopher: . I wonder whether there is a common source, but can't now think what it could be.

  3. Yes, thanks for that George. These images of sailing and staying afloat do apply very widely. Here's Michael Oakeshott on the business of governance: 'In political activity, then, men sail a boundless and bottomless sea: there is neither harbour for shelter, nor floor for anchorage, neither starting place nor appointed destination. The enterprise is to keep afloat on an even keel: the sea is both friend and enemy: and the seamanship consists in using the resources of a traditional manner of behaviour in order to make a friend of every hostile occasion.'

  4. The other day I read and enjoyed this analysis by Kay Ryan of Larkin's poem about a funeral in Ireland:

  5. Thanks Zoe – that's wonderful.