Wednesday, 12 February 2014

John Maynard - Theodor Fontane

John Maynard!
" Who is John Maynard?"
" John Maynard was our helmsman,
he held out, until we reached the shore;
he saved us, his is the crown,
he died for us, our love be his reward.
John Maynard!" —

The "Swallow" flies over Lake Erie,
spray foams around the bow
like flakes of snow,
from Detroit she flies to Buffalo;
and the hearts are free and glad,
and the passengers with children and wives
already they see the shore in the dusk,
and chatting all folks to John Maynard comes:
" How far is it still, helmsman?"
He looks ahead and looks around:
" Still thirty minutes...half an hour."

All hearts are glad, all hearts are free --
there it sounds from the cargo room like a cry;
" Fire!" was it, that one could hear,
a smoke from cabin and hatch arouse,
a smoke, then flames ablaze,
and still twenty minutes to Buffalo.

And the passengers, a mixed crowd,
stay huddled together on the foreship,
on the foreship there is still air and light,
but on the helm it hovers tight,
and a whining arises: "Where are we? Where?"
And still fifteen minutes to Buffalo.

The draft becomes stronger,
but the smoke cloud stays,
the captain to the steer wheel peers,
he cannot see his helmsman anymore,
but through the megaphone he asks:
" Still there, John Maynard?"
" Yes, master, I am."
" Onto the shore! Into the surf!"
" I hold onto it."
And the crowd aboard cheers: "Keep on! Hello!"
And still ten minutes to Buffalo.

"Still there, John Maynard?" And answer comes
with dying voice: "Yes, master, I keep on!"
And into the surf, the reefs, the rocks,
he slams the "Swallow" amid;
if there is rescue, it comes only this way.
Rescue: The shore of Buffalo.

The ship is broken. The fire smoldered.
Saved all. — But one is missing! —

All bells are ringing; their sounds rising
to heaven from churches and chapels,
apart of that the town is silent,
one duty only it has today:
Ten thousands follow or more,
and no eye in the crowd without tears.

They lower the coffin into flowers,
and with flowers they fill the grave,
and with golden letters into the marble stone
the town writes its words of thanks:

"Here rests John Maynard. In smoke and fire
he kept the helm firm in his hand,
he saved us, his is the crown,
he died for us, our love be his reward.

John Maynard."

Theodor Fontane (1819 - 1898) Germany
This poem probably commemorates the sacrifice of Luther Fuller, helmsman of the "Erie" on 9 August 1841. At the inquest his captain stated: "I think Fuller remained at the wheel and never left it until burned to death; he was always a resolute man in obeying orders."

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