Hal Gibson Pateshall Colebatch
Climbing - Poem by Hal Gibson Pateshall Colebatch
The German battleship Tirpitz capsized after being bombed in a Norwegian fjord late in World War II. Several hundred of the crew perished in the upturned hull. About 85 climbed up through the ship to the inner bottom, and were rescued.
Upward. Freezing we climb in this freezing dark,
upward between torn steel as batteries die,
between the whittering waterfalls, the stark
madness that rushes from the steel inverted sky.
How can we be under these black steel facts?
How can we think upon our coming home
in this madness of oil and ice and cataracts,
black but for mincing pin-points in the rush of foam?
In this smashed world, this torn empire
off uniform steel and iron, moulded men?
Climb now, between the hammer-strokes
of falling machinery, between men dying again
in shut, filling compartments, with rolling steel
- this is a second death, this black freezing time,
when all is destroyed, save flickering lights that feel
the freezing waterfalls and weep and climb.
Climb. Upward and climb. Grip oily icy steel,
grip now and climb and think and do not think.
Hope and despair are one, with us who hold
now after Judgement Day, now fallen past any brink.
Upward. We must simply starkly hold
what resources we have, between with waterfalls.
Survive. Survive the oil and fire and cold,
the clanging blackness where the last madness calls.
Through each next hatchway to the crazed black sky
of armoured steel that seals us freezing down
under these roaring waterfalls. So we will try
as machinery falls and one by one we drown.
We are already dead. We have no wreaths or sagas,
or know what fire or waves may roll above the steel.
Our world is gone to ruin, our world is crushed
to black freezing oil, to water we now hardly feel
fingering our ankles and heels as we climb,
clutching us back. But we may not admit we are dead
who are caught in this black Hell outside of time
If we have died, can we think on what lies ahead?
To climb. Only to climb up through this dark
leaderless, driven towards a desperate goal
with barely pride and courage, with one bare hope:
In a wrecked world, we will keep something whole.
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