© David Watts
Victoria winter 1996
He was already nearing thirty, gave it up and started over
He’d been skipper on a collier ship off England’s eastern shore
When he joined the Royal Navy as an ordinary seaman:
His passport to horizons where no one had gone before.
And a candle burned in the lantern in the focsle
And a candle burned as he learned the stars and seas
And a candle burned as he charted up the Saint Lawrence
And a candle burned to Québec and victory.
James Cook received a summons to lead the expedition
To plot Venus’ position from Tahiti’s southern stand
To reach into the cosmos, the offered the commission:
“We seek the same precision you showed in Newfoundland.
And a candle burned in the rude observatory
And a candle burned as they waited for the day
And a candle burned as he broke the sealed orders
And a candle burned to Antarctic all the way.
Elizabeth was his anchor when he was far from harbour
He told her when they called him, “This last trip and I’ll be done.”
She said, “I will remember, as you seek your Northwest Passage:
“Each night I’ll light a candle until you’re safely home.
And a candle burned in the window until morning
And a candle burned till the dawning of the day
And a candle burned as he fell on his last atoll
And a candle burned so many miles away.
His sailors bawled like babies, they said “We’ve lost a father”
As they left their fallen leader, turned back the way they’d come
And the word spread out like ripples round the planet home before them:
The stars James Cook once steered by—his light now shines among.
And a candle burned as the limies bested scurvy
And a candle burned as Bligh came safely home
And a candle burned as Vancouver rounded his Island
And a candle burns until the morning comes.
And a candle burns when with kindness we temper our mettle
And a candle burns until we know we’re one
And a candle burns when men are both strong and gentle
And a candle burns until the night is done.