Poem of the Week: Women and Children First by Douglas W. Phillips

13 April 2012

Tomorrow night/Sunday morning is the centennial of the night the "unsinkable" Titanic hit the iceberg ('twas at 11:40 P.M., to be exact — yes, writing historical fiction does do strange things to you :D). In honor of that horrible, frigid night and as a commemoration to the 1500 souls who lost their lives, I have chosen to feature the following poem this week. It so poetically captures that night and the heroic men who bravely stepped aside in order for the women and children to go first. I hope it touches you in the same manner it did me.

{via Google Images}

"Women and Children First!"
By Douglas W. Phillips (1997)

The North Atlantic icefields are perilous and rough,
And only should be tested by those of sterner stuff;
They’re filled with fearful hazards for nautical machines —
Icebergs that look like mountains, with jagged peaks and mean.

But on this eve in 1912 a monarch of the sea
Traversed her waves with brazen strides amid a night of glee.
“Unsinkable!” they called her, yes unsinkable, their claim;
But pride, not strength, would give this ship a destiny of fame.

Near half a hundred thousand tons — the largest ship at sea!
A mighty maiden of the waves, in length: eight eighty-three.
A monument to science? No, a legacy of pride.
A testimonial to those who needlessly would die.

II

While children’s heads lay nestled warm and snug through midnight hours,
And husbands huddled next to wives asleep in love’s sweet powers,
In upper decks men smoked and sang and toasted with a drink,
Not knowing that the virgin ship would soon begin to sink.

First rang the bells, then came the cries, and last the dreaded panic,
And now all knew t’would be the end of R.M.S. Titanic.
But in that hour of foul despair and fear unmitigated
A manly Christian cry to all was quickly circulated:

“Women and children first,” they cried,
“Women and children first!
To save your souls you must give your lives,
Women and children first!”

III

Amidst the tumult and the toil of lives then gripped with fear,
A holy calm prevailed on those whose hearts and minds were clear;
The cause was right, the mission pure, the path uncompromised;
The men must die that others live — the men must give their lives.

No greater love hath any man than that he lay down life
For family: for little ones, for dearest bride and wife.
What manly breast would shirk the call, or fail with any breath
To give his life for womankind, a sacrifice of death.

“Women and children first,” the cry,
“Women and children first!”
Some must live while others die;
“Women and children first!”

IV.

As water surged upon the decks and chaos reigned supreme,
The band played on sweet hymns to God, which quieted the screams.
Some raised their hands, or cried aloud, while others genuflected,
In fleeting hopes that dreams and lives might still be resurrected.

Across the deck a thousand scenes of lives held in the balance,
With prayers delivered unto God in heavenly reliance.
While stokers, stewards, officers and gentlemen en masse
All lifted women into boats without regard to class.

Women and children first — the law!
Women and children first.
The men would act — No fight. No flaw.
Women and children first.

V.

One faithful father searched the deck to find his family,
And rushing forward grabbed a girl near tossing into the sea.
But though this little golden hair was to the man a stranger,
He strapped to her his own life vest to save the babe from danger.

At last he saw the face he loved and pulled her from the throng,
Along with tender tiny ones who thought him bold and strong.
A little boy, a little girl — the world he held so dear,
Were waiting ignorant that time would bring their darkest fear.

Women and children first-praise God!
Women and children first.
This principle we ever laud!
Women and children first.

VI.

Five minutes he had to say goodbye, five minutes then all was lost,
But giving his life for the woman he loved was hardly a weighty cost.
“To the boats! To the boats, my darlings,” said he, “to the boats!” and his words did race,
Then low’ring them into those cradles of life, he paused ... just one more embrace.

And now he kissed those tender lips, and now he squeezed the hands,
And now he hugged and spoke the last of love and wedding bands.
“Be brave my love. Be brave my son. Be brave my little dears.
God’s ways are just, Christ rules above, and faith must hush our fears.

“Women and children first,” said he,
“Women and children first;
to be a man I must set you free.
Women and children first!”

VII.

At last he said goodbye to eyes which longed for him and home,
At last he watched them pull away to safety through the foam,
In moments he would be submerged and ’neath the icy brine,
Content to know his sacrifice had given them more time.

Just yards away a mother gazed back at the sinking boat,
Her children bundled in her arms, warmed by their mother’s coat.
A prayer of hope upon her lips, a Bible in her hand,
A testament of love, of faith, and of her husband’s stand.

“Women and children first,” she wept.
“Women and children first,”
Stroking the curls of the infant she’d kept,
“Women and children first.”

VIII.

Into the liquid tomb he fell, moments from paradise,
With one last grasp he clawed the waves and caught his dear one’s eyes.
His frozen face, his numb-ed hands, his body stiff and cold —
An ocean legacy of heroism told.

Down through the depths Titanic sank, and into her watery grave,
Bound by such forces that God had decreed would render the hulk its slave.
Downward she plunged though the darkness so cold, taking no inventory
Of perishing hundreds who crowded her decks, bound for Hell or Glory.

For women and children first they died,
For women and children first;
They put their faith before their pride,
For women and children first.


Humbling, is it not? 
"Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." — John 15:13

3 epistles:

  1. I remember being very touched by this poem when you shared on Unsinkable sometime ago, Elizabeth. Thank you for sharing here.
    By the way, is your book available to buy on Amazon now?

    Blessings,
    ~Joy @ joy-live4jesus.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
  2. This poem always makes me cry...thanks for posting!

    Jessica

    ReplyDelete
  3. Wow, I'd never read this poem. Thanks for sharing. Time to wipe these teary eyes!

    ReplyDelete

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