The Ship of Death

Original Text: 
D. H. Lawrence, Last Poems, ed. Richard Aldington (London: Martin Secker, 1933): 60-64 (MS "A"), 173-77 (MS "B," dated Nov. 23, 1928). PR 6023 A93 A17 Robarts Library
Version ##
1Now it is autumn and the falling fruit
2and the long journey towards oblivion.
3The apples falling like great drops of dew
4to bruise themselves an exit from themselves.
5And it is time to go, to bid farewell
6to one's own self, and find an exit
7from the fallen self.
8Have you built your ship of death, O have you?
9O build your ship of death, for you will need it.
10The grim frost is at hand, when the apples will fall
11thick, almost thundrous, on the hardened earth.
12And death is on the air like a smell of ashes!
13Ah! can't you smell it?
14And in the bruised body, the frightened soul
15finds itself shrinking, wincing from the cold
16that blows upon it through the orifices.
18with a bare bodkin?
19With daggers, bodkins, bullets, man can make
20a bruise or break of exit for his life;
21but is that a quietus, O tell me, is it quietus?
22Surely not so! for how could murder, even self-murder
23ever a quietus make?
24O let us talk of quiet that we know,
25that we can know, the deep and lovely quiet
26of a strong heart at peace!
27How can we this, our own quietus, make?
28Build then the ship of death, for you must take
29the longest journey, to oblivion.
30And die the death, the long and painful death
31that lies between the old self and the new.
32Already our bodies are fallen, bruised, badly bruised,
33already our souls are oozing through the exit
34of the cruel bruise.
35Already the dark and endless ocean of the end
36is washing in through the breaches of our wounds,
37Already the flood is upon us.
38Oh build your ship of death, your little ark
39and furnish it with food, with little cakes, and wine
40for the dark flight down oblivion.
41Piecemeal the body dies, and the timid soul
42has her footing washed away, as the dark flood rises.
43We are dying, we are dying, we are all of us dying
44and nothing will stay the death-flood rising within us
45and soon it will rise on the world, on the outside world.
46We are dying, we are dying, piecemeal our bodies are dying
47and our strength leaves us,
48and our soul cowers naked in the dark rain over the flood,
49cowering in the last branches of the tree of our life.
50We are dying, we are dying, so all we can do
51is now to be willing to die, and to build the ship
52of death to carry the soul on the longest journey.
53A little ship, with oars and food
54and little dishes, and all accoutrements
55fitting and ready for the departing soul.
56Now launch the small ship, now as the body dies
57and life departs, launch out, the fragile soul
58in the fragile ship of courage, the ark of faith
59with its store of food and little cooking pans
60and change of clothes,
61upon the flood's black waste
62upon the waters of the end
63upon the sea of death, where still we sail
64darkly, for we cannot steer, and have no port.
65There is no port, there is nowhere to go
66only the deepening blackness darkening still
67blacker upon the soundless, ungurgling flood
68darkness at one with darkness, up and down
69and sideways utterly dark, so there is no direction any more
70and the little ship is there; yet she is gone.
71She is not seen, for there is nothing to see her by.
72She is gone! gone! and yet
73somewhere she is there.
75And everything is gone, the body is gone
76completely under, gone, entirely gone.
77The upper darkness is heavy as the lower,
78between them the little ship
79is gone
80It is the end, it is oblivion.
81And yet out of eternity a thread
82separates itself on the blackness,
83a horizontal thread
84that fumes a little with pallor upon the dark.
85Is it illusion? or does the pallor fume
86A little higher?
87Ah wait, wait, for there's the dawn
88the cruel dawn of coming back to life
89out of oblivion
90Wait, wait, the little ship
91drifting, beneath the deathly ashy grey
92of a flood-dawn.
93Wait, wait! even so, a flush of yellow
94and strangely, O chilled wan soul, a flush of rose.
95A flush of rose, and the whole thing starts again.
96The flood subsides, and the body, like a worn sea-shell
97emerges strange and lovely.
98And the little ship wings home, faltering and lapsing
99on the pink flood,
100and the frail soul steps out, into the house again
101filling the heart with peace.
102Swings the heart renewed with peace
103even of oblivion.
104Oh build your ship of death. Oh build it!
105for you will need it.
106For the voyage of oblivion awaits you.
Version ## ('Ship of Death')
1I sing of autumn and the falling fruit
2and the long journey towards oblivion.
3The apples falling like great drops of dew
4to bruise themselves an exit from themselves.
5Have you built your ship of death, oh, have you?
6Build then your ship of death, for you will need it!
7Can man his own quietus make
8with a bare bodkin?
9With daggers, bodkins, bullets, man can make
10a bruise or break of exit for his life
11but is that a quietus, oh tell me, is it quietus?
12Quietus is the goal of the long journey
13the longest journey towards oblivion.
14Slips out the soul, invisible one, wrapped still
15in the white shirt of the mind's experiences
16and folded in the dark-red, unseen
17mantle of the boays still mortal memories.
18Frightened and alone, the soul slips out of the house
19or is pushed out
20to find himself on the crowded, and margins of existence.
21Oh, it is not so easy, I tell you it is not so easy
22to set softly forth on the longest journey, the longest journey.
24strewn with dim wreckage, and crowded with crying souls
25that lie outside the silvery walls of our body's builded city.
26It is easy to be pushed out of the silvery city of the body
27through any breach in the wall,
28thrust out on to the grey grey beaches of shadow
29the long marginal stretches of existence, crowded with lost souls
30that intervene between tower and the shaking sea of the beyond.
31Oh build your ship of death, oh build it in time
32and build it lovingly, and put it between the hands of your soul.
33Once outside the gate of the walled silvery life of days
34once outside, upon the grey marsh beaches, where lost souls moan
35in millions, unable to depart
36having no boat to launch upon the shaken, soundless
37deepest and longest of seas,
38once outside the gate
39what will you do, if you have no ship of the soul?
40Oh pity the dead that are dead, but cannot take
41the journey, still they moan and beat
42against the silvery adamant walls of this our exclusive existence.
43They moan and beat, they gnash, they rage
44they fall upon the new outcoming souls with rage
45and they send arrows of anger, bullets and bombs of frustration
46over the adamant walls of this, our by-no-means impregnable existence.
47Pity, oh pity the poor dead that are only ousted from life
48and crowd there on the grey mud beaches of the margins
49gaunt and horrible
50waiting, waiting till at last the ancient boatman with the common barge
51shall take them aboard, towards the great goal of oblivion.
52Pity the poor gaunt dead that cannot die
53into the distance with receding oars
54but must roam like outcast dogs on the margins of life,
55and think of them, and with the soul's deep sigh
56waft nearer to them the bark of delivery.
57But for myself, but for my soul, dear soul
58let me build a little ship with oars and food
59and little dishes, and all accoutrements
60dainty and ready for the departing soul.
61And put it between the hands of the trembling soul.
62So that when the hour comes, and the last door closes behind him
63he shall slip down the shores invisible
64between the half-visible hordes
65to where the furthest and the longest sea
66touches the margins of our life's existence
67with wincing unwilling waves.
68And launching there his little ship,
69wrapped in the dark-red mantle of the body's memories
70the little, slender soul sits swiftly down, and takes the oars
71and draws away, away, away, towards the dark depths
72fathomless deep ahead, far, far from the grey shores
73that fringe with shadow all this world's existence.
74Over the sea, over the farthest sea
75on the longest journey
76past the jutting rocks of shadow
77past the lurking, octopus arms of agonised memory
78past the strange whirlpools of remembered greed
79through the dead weed of a life-time's falsity,
80slow, slow my soul, in his little ship
81on the most soundless of all seas
82taking the longest journey.
83Pulling the long oars of a life-time's courage
84drinking the confident water from the little jug
85and eating the brave bread of a wholesome knowledge
86row, little soul, row on
87on the longest journey, towards the greatest goal
88Neither straight nor crooked, neither here nor there
89but shadows folded on deeper shadows
90and deeper, to a core of sheer oblivion
91like the convolutions of shadow-shell
92or deeper, like the foldings and involvings of a womb.
93Drift on, drift on, my soul, towards the most pure
94most dark oblivion.
95And at the penultimate porches, the dark-red mantle
96of the body's memories slips and is absorbed
97into the shell-like, womb-like convoluted shadow.
98And round the great final bend of unbroken dark
99the skirt of the spirit's experience has melted away
100the oars have gone from the boat, and the little dishes
101gone, gone, and the boat dissolves like pearl
102as the soul at last slips perfect into the goal, the core
103of sheer oblivion and of utter peace,
104the womb of silence in the living night.
105Ah peace, ah lovely peace, most lovely lapsing
106of this my soul into the plasm of peace.
107Oh lovely last, last lapse of death, into pure oblivion
108at the end of the longest journey
109peace, complete peace!
110But can it be that also it is procreation?
111Oh build your ship of death
112oh build it!
113Oh, nothing matters but the longest journey.


17] See Shakespeare's Hamlet III.i.69-32):
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
Th' oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,
The pangs of despis'd love, the law's delay,
The insolence of office, and the spurns
That patient merit of th' unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin ...
Back to Line
23] Lines omitted in Last Poems and inserted by Vivian de Sola Pinto and F. Warren Roberts in their definitive Complete Poems (Penguin, 1993): 961, note on 1042. In doing so, they emend "that" (line 23) to "the". Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
Publication Notes: 
See Roberts A62
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: 
RPO 2000.