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This report is taken from PN Review 183, Volume 35 Number 1, September - October 2008.

Two Voices Are There Frank Kuppner

Reading about another disaster at sea prompted me to get hold again of Sean Street's The Wreck of the Deutschland (1992), in which the author laid bare the facts behind the loss which inspired the first poem of Gerard Manley Hopkins's maturity. The incidental details are devastating. That one may, for instance, be born in Switzerland, live for sixteen years in China, start to travel to America - only to plummet fatally in pitch darkness (name, it seems, unrecorded) from the rigging of a ship grounded in a hellish storm on a North Sea sandbank. Such, as they say, is life. Is this really what it all amounts to?

Or one may be a woman who persuades an (unknown) fellow-passenger not to take 'the coward's way out' by shooting himself - but how does he come to have a gun? - before, a minute or two later, herself being swept overboard. What? Where? (At least three of the forty to forty-four victims - no-one seems to know even this much for sure either - were suicides. A male hanging; a female hanging; a man slitting his wrists.) Or a sailor, still roped, abandons a comparatively safe place up in the rigging to try to save a child who is drowning at the ship's oceanic, cold-boiling surface - but just as he reaches the deck, another wave hurls him against the bulwarks, shearing off his all too caring head. Thank you, Lord. There the ...

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