So there’s this ship,
built over the years,
out on the water,
There isn’t an engine,
but even if there was,
there isn’t any fuel.
The wind isn’t blowing,
but it doesn’t matter,
there isn’t a sail.
The oars are moving,
but one goes forward,
the other back.
There’s a rumor,
of an island,
some place far off.
it isn’t a rumor,
to know where it is.
They have directions,
and claims of tug boats.
But they can’t help,
it’s hard to explain,
something about navigation.
there’s this ship,
and all around is water.
and water right.
The captain stands,
on the deck,
There’s lots of contemplation.
Plans are thought,
the oars move together.
there’s only water,
seems to have found land.
But there’s the captain,
on the ship,
and seeing water.
There’s a moment,
there’s aren’t words for it,
but the captain has a feeling,
and just stops,
and sits on the deck.
And there on the water,
the ship is still.
This poem is about a person whose life isn’t the way they want it to be. Everything in the person’s life is not where they want. Their job, their health, their abilities, their relationships, their experiences, their home, their everything. It’s not that the person has something very bad in their life, it’s just that their life isn’t where they want, and they don’t seem to be getting any closer to what they want.
The poem starts out with a ship. The ship is a metaphor for how the person travels on the journey of their life. It is in some way the expression of their effort. It is the way they hope to move forward. It also is symbolic of their life. The captain of the ship is the person, but the ship is also a metaphor for them.
The poem starts off in a little bit of a flippant way. It says, So there’s this ship. It’s almost like someone is telling a story in a bar. It’s an introduction that glosses over an entire back story.
The poem has two tones. One is somewhat ironic. It has a sense of humor, in a way, over negative things. This tone is reflective of the person in the poem. The person at times can laugh at their situation.
The other tone is more somber and expresses an empathy for the person in the poem. This is the tone of someone who sees the person and understands what they are going through. The two tones are mixed in the poem.
The ship was built over the years. This expresses everything the person has done to get to this point. The person’s state in life is described as out on the water, but still. The person is living their life, but they aren’t going anywhere.
The next three stanzas talk about how the person isn’t moving forward in life. The first of the three stanzas starts with the greatest propulsion – an engine. It says the ship doesn’t have one. This means that the person is lacking a variety of big things that might make them move forward in life. It might be education or skills or connections or something. The person is lacking something that would really get them going.
The irony of this though, is that even if the person had an engine, they don’t have any fuel. This is meant to say, that even if the person had something that might move them forward in life, that they are lacking something still that would help them use it.
This isn’t meant as a condemnation of the person, it is just stating a reality.
The next stanza of the three expresses a similar but slightly different idea. The wind is some sort of outside help. This is something, like a third party helping the person, that is separate from the person, but would help them move forward in life. The person is lacking this as well.
The irony again though, is that even if the person had this thing, they don’t have the means to utilize it. Even, for example, if the person had a personal connection that might get them a better job, they don’t have the social skills or knowledge to utilize the connection.
The last of the three stanzas continues the similar theme. The means has degraded from an engine, to wind and sails, and at this point to oars. Again, the person isn’t able to utilize what they have. They have oars, but they use them in opposite directions and they don’t go anywhere.
In the next stanza, there is a thought about where the person wants to be. This state in their life is describe as an island. It’s some place they want to land their ship. As the person hasn’t achieved this state, the knowledge of it is described as a rumor and it’s some place far off.
This personal knowledge is contrasted in the next stanza by the knowledge of others. While the person has only a sense of what they want to achieve, others around them seem to be clearer on it. Everyone seems to know exactly what the person needs to make their life better. In a way, this stanza pokes at the advice the person gets.
The next stanza is saying that people claim to know how the person can achieve their goals and even offer help.
The following stanza though, says that these directions and offers aren’t helpful to the person. The person’s life is such that advice isn’t helpful. It might be that the advice is bad, or the person has heard it before, or the person can’t use it, or something. The idea though, is that it isn’t helping.
The next stanza gets away from an outside view and goes back to an inside one. It comes back to the ship itself. It restates its condition.
The following stanza emphasizes it.
After this, the reflection moves from the ship to the captain. It describes the captain as contemplating. This means that the person is thinking about their life.
Following stanza says that the person thinks a lot.
The next stanza says that the person thinks and plans and sometimes moves a little forward in life.
The next stanza is saying though that this isn’t really doing anything.
In the following stanza, the person in the poem thinks it’s strange that seemingly everyone else seems to have achieved the things in life that they struggle for.
The stanza after this gets away from this temporary outside view and goes back to the person and their state in life.
In the next stanza, the person feels defeated and just overwhelmed with things. They just have a moment where they just sort of stop. It feels, if not devastating, just too much.
The last stanza summarizes the person’s life. They just aren’t going anywhere.