One stirred from the rigging to save
The wild woman-kind below,
With a rope’s end round the man, handy and brave―
He was pitched to his death at a blow,
For all his dreadnought breast and braids of thew:
They could tell him for hours, dandled the to and fro
Through the cobbled foam-fleece, what could he do
With the burl of the fountains of air, buck and the flood of the wave?

The Wreck of the Deutschland
By Gerard Manley Hopkins




In all major disaster events there are incidents of selfishness almost beyond civilized peoples comprehension. However civilization is a very thin layer in our personalities and none of us really knows how we would act if we where in a similar crisis. Most people, probably both the writer and many of the readers of this blog, would in many cases not always come out on the right side.

This was also true for crew and passengers of the SS Deutschland: One survivor describes how he asked for some information that could help him, but no one bothered to answer. He said it was a feeling of every man for himself up on deck. Another survivor, a young man from Cleveland, described how he saw many people tied rope around their waists, when he asked another man if he could use some of his rope, the man refused, even though there where plenty to share. Shock and fear can steer us into truly sad behavior.

On the other hand some people are admirable in case of disasters. This is one of the themes at the very core of this poem: How we, God’s children, respond to the horrors of God’s world. This stanza deals with a terrible incident where one man tried to save another passenger’s life and instead lost his own. Hopkins read about the incident in the Times:

One brave sailor who was safe in the rigging went down to try and save a child or woman who was drowning on deck. He was secured by a rope to the rigging but a wave dashed him against the bulwarks, and when daylight dawned his headless body, detained by the rope, was seen swaying to and fro with the waves.

A man tries to save a another passenger; God does not let him do this. Instead the other passenger dies and the rescuer is decapitated… Surely God is absent here. A caring God would not let such a thing happen. However such an interpretation would be the wrong perspective in which The faithful waver, the faithless fable and miss as Hopkins talked about in stanza six.

It’s all too easy to sit on dry land, dealing with our own spiritual issues, explaining each and every thing: God is just (or Satan unjust). Nothing happens without Him knowing it (or he was absent). The dying child did penance… The rescuers somehow deserved this… – How presumptuous aren’t we, when we try to judge Gods actions like that, looking at this world as the beginning and end of everything? What do we know about His reasons?

All we can do is look at the Christian way to face disaster: With love for God. The Love of God demands the love for our fellow human beings. No matter the consequences.



During lent I will publish the stanzas from the Wreck of the Deutschland, one by one. Sometimes with a small commentary or with some aspect about the poem. Hopefully someone will be able to use this as a form of prayer during Lent. Click here to get to the first stanza.