the Noster was a ship of swank
(as gallant as they come)
until she hit a mine and sank
just off the coast of Sum

precisely where a craft of cost
the Ergo perished later
all hands (you may recall)being lost
including captain Pater

Upon first reading we hear a nursery rhyme with a little story. A ship sinks (the Noster) after hitting a mine, precisely where another ship (the Ergo) was also lost. All died including a captain named Pater.

First thing you do (if your schooling wasn’t of classical flav) is pull out your Latin dictionary and find out that Noster means Our, that Sum means I Am, that Ergo means Therefore, and that Pater means Father. Some take this as Collectivism (Noster) destroyed by Individualism (Sum) and Rationalism (Ergo) dying with Religious Authority (Pater). Perhaps that’s right.

But we must also see that the allusion is to the two most well known Latin phrases: the “Our Father” of the Lord’s Prayer and the “Ergo Sum” of Descartes. With this in mind we can read it a couple of different ways. We see how autonomous thought, the Cogito, destroys both the Church and Reason and thus all hands are lost.

If we read the final line as an adjectival phrase, subverting the rules of grammar as Cummings often did, then we could read it thusly: “all the hands which held the Father were lost.” We could also read this as the lavish and swaggering church sinking right where human reason will sink later, off the coast of the great I AM. Either way we see that when the church sinks, human reason isn’t far behind.

Number 8 from 50 Poems.

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