The Denizen of the Deep – by Chris South

(or The Curse of the Mariners Sleep)

In a tavern with a sailor I sat in Whitby bay
Drinking rum from a gallon drum
On a cold November day
And he told me his tale
Of a monstrous whale
The curse of the mariners sleep
Of how he fought
And was nearly caught
By the denizen of the deep

We put out from Whitby harbour
In a clipper staunch and sound
Sails shimmering white
As she took to flight
For the New World we were bound
With cargo and provisions
Piled high down in the hold
And hid beneath the waterline
Her belly full of gold

Our Captain’s name was Mitchell
A man of flint and steel
Who stood there on the quarterdeck
And steered the ’tiller’ wheel
A fine ship was the Mercury
Sleek and fast and new
With forty men
Who loved her then
Like a mother, for a crew

We sailed for days no mist or haze
Beset the briny swell
Trade winds proved good
The sails aflood
Bore forth our vessel well
No signs of storm
The nights were warm
There blew a balmy breeze
Too fine did I fear
For the time of the year
On those cold Atlantic seas

Twas the thirteenth day of the month of May
When our lookout gave a cry
‘Ship Ahoy!’
Yelled the cabin boy
Adrift to the veteran eye
We drew along side
Her battered old hide
No signs of life no breath no sound
As we stepped aboard
I unsheathed my sword
Foreboding all around

All o’er we sought for a soul but nought
Found living nor deceased
Each cabin bare
Whilst everywhere
The stench of death increased
With cargo and provisions
Piled high down in her hold
And hid beneath the waterline
Her belly full of gold

All that night neath new moon bright
We gutted out her bowel
Her booty stowed
In our own belly bowed
As the wind in the mizzen howled
By break of day
She had slipped away
The ghost ship, disappeared
Unseen, unheard
Like the fog that stirred
Surrounding as I’d feared

Reveille rang, the ship’s bell clanged
As the Mercury lurched on her keel
Struck from below
By an almighty blow
Dashed like a filament reel
Then smashed once again
As out crashed the men
Dazed and perplexed, half asleep
By what they knew not
Or for fear ere forgot
The denizen of the deep

‘Hoist the main sail!’ the Captain did hail
To his crewmen sturdy and bold
‘Make all good haste
There’s no time to waste
Lest we are split in the hold!’
The men they set to
With a hullabaloo
To rescue their motherly home
When out of the spume
Shot a jettisoned plume
Of froth and of fizz and of foam

Leviathan rose and the crew all but froze
With dread at the sight of the beast
His bulk was immense
And from that moment hence
Everyman’s peril increased
But the valiant part
Of our good Captain’s heart
Rallied his men to his call
The lines were rigged right
And the sails billowed tight
Thrusting us into a squall

We set a good pace but the monster gave chase
Swifter than any whale ought
With each splash of his tail
He would thrash and prevail
So closer and closer was brought
Weighed down by our hold
Of doubled up gold
And battered by storm driven waves
There was but one fear
With the giant thus near
Say that of our watery graves

The wind sudden died, the whale hit port side
The Mercury buckled and creaked
He spun her around
With a shuddering sound
Til the hull on the port side leaked
She began to submerge
With the force of the surge
Dragged down by her burdensome load
She pitched and she tossed
And twelve crew were lost
Overboard as the sea overflowed

Then each able man to the starboard side ran
With a rope or a net or a pole
Casting them out
To a scream or a shout
From every poor foundering soul
But that ruthless old whale
And his merciless tail
With a swat and a swipe and a swish
Belayed their last breath
Or else flayed them to death
That miserable, murderous fish

Next he did turn on the Mercury’s stern
Attacking our now stricken ship
Neath the tip of his nose
The Mercury rose
And the bow then started to dip
Deep from inside
Came a thundering slide
As our treasure began to shift
Doomed soon was she
To be swamped by the sea
If her point was unable to lift

With a final command his ship to unhand
Our Captain sent six to the hold
Of them I was one
All the others now gone
Alas the same way as the gold
The task to despatch
All our bounteous catch
Out into the depths of the blue
For our own wretched necks
We went down below decks
But the behemoth thought of it too

In with a roar burst his cavernous maw
Breaching the hull deep and wide
Gulped three mates right there
Creating the tear
Then my hearties Jones and McBride
Which left only me
And the whale and the sea
With the bullion all at my feet
So with him stranded there
Half beached in mid air
I fed him the damned lot to eat

At last came a lull with his belly quite full
He wriggled and writhed himself free
I stumbled aback
For fear of attack
As he thrashed his way back out to sea
I bade him farewell
To go straight down to hell
For his feast had been finally told
He sank like a stone
And so left me alone
That beast with a belly of gold

When I scrambled adeck of the Mercury’s wreck
Brave Captain and crew none alive
So what now thought I
Except lay there and die
But then how would my story survive?
Despair quickly passed
I embraced a felled mast
As I watched her succumb to the waves
Thirty nine men
And a good ship had then
Gone down to their watery graves

A week did I float with no sign of a boat
Determined to see England’s shores
Which passed into doubt
As my vigour gave out
And all hope abandoned my cause
But then I awoke
As a fair maiden spoke
Whilst towing me back to dry land
Adieu and goodbye
She whispered a sigh
And left me alone on the sand

There did I lay for the rest of that day
Til the shadow of twilight’s descent
When her sweet voice I heard
Sing each silvery word
Of a lullaby lost in lament
I fell into dreams
Though tortured by screams
Of men as they drowned in the cold
Who sank in deep dread
To leviathans bed
To reclaim their lost fortunes in gold

For nineteen long years with my sorrows and fears
And unreachable mermaid’s sweet song
I dwelt on that isle
But yearned all the while
For my Whitby is where I belong
Til that glorious day
When a ship passed my way
And spotted my beacon alight
Thence carried me home
My last voyage by foam
With this terrible story of plight

So in my tavern with a sailor I sit in Whitby bay
Drinking rum from a gallon drum
On this and every day
And I tell him my tale
Of that monstrous whale
The curse of this mariners sleep
Of how I fought
And was nearly caught
By the denizen of the deep

2 thoughts on “The Denizen of the Deep – by Chris South

  1. I Love it Chris. I got a real tingle on the beach and at the end.
    Quite something to achieve and epic Poem like this.
    The track to go with it? Albatross by Fleetwood Mac – the Pious Bird of Good Omen?


  2. Thanks Kevan

    Yes Albatross by Fleetwood Mac certainly seems fitting and I may well have been listening to that track when I started writing this poem in 2006. They’re one of my favourite bands.

    Other inspirations include Herman Melville’s Moby Dick and Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner (my preferred poet).

    And of course my early childhood memories of living in Whitby.


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