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For a Girl Killed at Sea

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I see the ships, the plotted crash,
The stateroom’s purgatory trash,
The waiting wedged and still no splash.
There is the torch that burns not through
Unless it drowns the sailor crew
Shoring the bulkhead pinning you.
And then the priest who, being ill,
Intones through steel the bitter pill:
This tomb is your last confession grille.
I think of you awake in bed,
Praying what all the voyage said:
Have done with dying and be dead.
It is a pride in loneliness
Like some propriety of dress
That shuns the water meant to bless;
My hand as from a magnet pole
Works to the Sunday dipping bowl
To spot my tie and cross my soul.

Calvin Thomas, Jr., "For a Girl Killed at Sea" from Poetry (October 1955). Copyright © 1955 by Calvin Thomas, Jr..  Reprinted by permission of Calvin Thomas, Jr..
Source: Poetry (Poetry Foundation)

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This poem originally appeared in the October 1955 issue of Poetry magazine

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For a Girl Killed at Sea

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  • Calvin Thomas Jr. was a promising young poet at Yale when, during the summer of his sophomore year, he attended John Crowe Ransom’s summer school at Kenyon College. There he met influential New Critics like Allen Tate, Mark Shorer, and Yvor Winters, who would later become a mentor. He graduated from Yale in 1951, joined the Air Force, and was sent to Germany. His story “The Comeback,” which sprang from his experience interviewing German war veterans, was included in Stanford Best Stories. Thomas also wrote poems during this time, he alleged, “with no plan for them.” He continued, “but I mailed them off with short stories to [Wallace] Stegner and, to my surprise, learned I’d won the Stanford Fellowship, together with a Thom Gunn, and now belonged to Winters.”

    Though he never published a book, Thomas had poems accepted in Poetry, The Golden Goose, Sequoia, and the journal Botteghe Oscure. Often...

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