The Ships Prose Poems
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From Imagination to Paper. It is a rough crossing, and a treacherous sea. The distance seems short at first sight, but how long a voyage this is, and how damaging it often proves to the ships that attempt it.
      The first kind of damage comes from the highly fragile nature of the ship’s cargo. In the markets of Imagination, the most and choisiest merchandise is made out of fine glass and transparent tiles, and even with all the care in the world many shatter when transported, and many others shatter upon unloading. Any such damage is irrepairable, for it is out of the question for the ship to turn back and load similar goods. There is no chance of finding the same shop which provided them. The markets of Imagination are full of shops of great size and luxury, but not of great longevity. Their transactions are brief, they dispose of their stock rapidly and dissolve promptly. It is exceedingly rare for a returning ship to find the same exporters, carrying the same goods.
      Another kind of damage comes from a ship’s capacity. The ships sail fully laden from the ports of the bountiful continents, and then, when they reach the open sea, they are forced to jettison part of the cargo to save the rest, so that almost no ship ever succeeds in ferrying intact the treasures it loaded. Of course the jettisoned goods are the less valuable, but it so happens sometimes that the sailors, in their great haste, make mistakes and cast precious objects to the sea.
      New sacrifices are in order again upon arrival at the white papery port. The customs officials come and inspect a particular merchandise, deliberating whether they should permit delivery; they forbid the unloading of another; and for a few select goods, they only admit a small portion thereof. The land has its laws. Not all goods have a free bill of passage, and contraband is strenuously forbidden. The import of wines is prohibited, for the continents from which the ships hail produce wines and spirits from grapes which grow and mature in a most generous temperature. The customs officials do not welcome these beverages at all. They are highly inebriating. They are not fit for all heads. Furthermore, there is a local company which has a monopoly on wines. It produces liquids that have the color of wine and the taste of water, and you can drink from them all day long without feeling the least bit tipsy. It is an established company. It is highly regarded of, and its stock is always overvalued.
      But then again, let us be content when the ships arrive in port, even with all these sacrifices. For at last, through vigilance and tender care, the number of broken or jettisoned goods during the voyage is limited. Also, the laws of the land and the customs regulations are certainly tyrannical but not entirely exclusive, and a great part of the cargo is unloaded. The customs officials are not infallible, and several of the prohibited goods pass through in deceitful containers, misleadingly marked, and a few good wines, destined for choice feasts, are imported.
      What is sad, and very much so, is another matter: it is when some huge ships are sighted, with ornaments of coral and masts of ebony, flying white and crimson ensign, laden with treasures, which never even approach the port, either because all the goods they are carrying are forbidden, or because the port is too shallow to accomodate them. And they sail on. A tailwind fills their silken sails, the sun glistens on the glory of their golden prow, and they sail away gently and majestically, away from us and our cramped port forever.
      Mercifully, these ships are very few. We see but two or three during our entire life. And we forget them forthwith. As bright was the vision, so quick is oblivion. And after a few years have passed, if on some day – while we sit inertly, observing the light or listening to silence – some enthusiastic verses might perchance return to haunt our mental hearing, we do not readily identify them, and belabor our mind to recall where we have heard them before. After a lot of effort, the old remembrance is awakened, and we recall that these verses are part of the song sung by the sailors, who were beautiful like heroes from the Iliad, when the great, the sublime ships were passing us by and sailed on – who knows where to.

Translated by Manuel Savidis

- Original Greek Poem

- Translation by Edmund Keeley/Dimitri Gondicas

- Translation by Walter Kaiser