Eight Bells

Eight Bells

Text: John Lee Payton      Seascape Art: Ken Bushe      Portrait Art: Michael Clifford Shpack      Music: Sora Jederan-Shpack



All is quiet in the bowels of the slaver far at sea

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Where it rests upon the bottom leagues and years from you and me.
But there was a time ’round eight bells when the night was windy cold
And the shackled ones were sighing in the darkness of the hold.




The sea was still, the night was calm; no man heard their plea

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To almighty Gods for kindness and release from misery
Restless sleepers’ iron bracelets pinked softly as first bell tolled,
The next four marked spirits rising from their shadows in the hold.

 

 

At sixth bell a young lieutenant who’d left a wife just twenty-three

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Cupped a guttering candle in one shivering hand so he could see
Something flickering in his heart and eye and making his soul yearn
As he walked the creaking planks of mid-night to and fro from bow to stern.




At seventh bell he felt a shifting wind but naught else did he heed

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But a tiny portrait of his darling in its gold and silver filigree.
Then came the wraiths around him, and the ship and all its world
So stars’ light seemed torn from Heaven and deep into Hades hurled.



No man heard the eighth bell sing out for the free and slave souls slipped,

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For it was over in a heartbeat when the black ship’s keel was split.
She struck a reef, was torn asunder, and swallowed by the sea
Never more to see sweet Africa or the young bride of twenty-three.