Thursday, October 28, 2010

Bad Hair Days

We have been having quite the weather event.The winds of the last 48 hours would not be remarkable if we lived on the plains or by the sea, but we do not. One easily excitable local meteorologist pronounced that if this were a hurricane its magnitude would be really impressive.

This scene of gale-force wind-strewn furniture on the front porch as well as the site in the mirror when we came inside from taking the photo reminded us of the beauty salon. We always show up there in a most disheveled state. Every five weeks the patient cosmetologist, trims and shapes and fluffs our do, knowing full well that the results of his efforts will, within 24 hours, no longer be apparent. Poor thing. We promise him we will never tell anyone who cuts our hair as it really isn't representative of his usually outstanding work. He does his best with what he has to work with. Sow's ear, silk purse, all that, you know...

Anyway, one day, arriving at the Last Chance Salon exasperated at being in even more disarray than usual from the sturdy breeze outdoors, he commented that we reminded him of an octogenarian client who, when in serious need of beautifying services would exclaim, "I look like the wreck of the Hespress." He didn't really understand the reference, but with her dramatic delivery found it amusing even so. Well, inquiring minds want to know about this kind of thing. A very little bit of research found that the expression originated with a narrative poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow called - Wreck of the Hesperus.

From Wikipedia -

"The Wreck of the Hesperus" is a story that presents the tragic consequences of a sea captain's pride. On an ill-fated voyage in the winter, he had his daughter aboard ship for company. The disaster came when the captain ignored the advice of one of his experienced men, who feared that a hurricane was approaching. When the hurricane arrives, he ties his daughter to the mast to prevent her from being swept overboard; she calls out to her dying father as she hears the surf beating on the shore, then prays to Christ to calm the seas. The ship crashes onto the reef of Norman's Woe and sinks; a horrified fisherman finds the daughter's body, still tied to the mast, drifting in the surf the next morning. The poem ends with a prayer that we all be spared such a fate "on the reef of Norman's Woe".

The title phrase has also been used as a colloquial term in the UK to mean a "disheveled appearance," spoken as "You look like the wreck of the Hespress!" it can also refer to a very untidy room. Its everyday use was greater in the 1950s to 1970s, however its use remains popular in more cultured circles. Former Beatle George Harrison referenced this colloquial usage in writing his song "Wreck of the Hesperus," included on his 1987 album Cloud Nine.

Now you know. And if you'd like to commit the verse to memory for recitation at your next dinner party we say go for it. We'll listen.


It was the schooner Hesperus,
That sailed the wintery sea;
And the skipper had taken his little daughter,
To bear him company.

Blue were her eyes as the fairy flax,
Her cheeks like the dawn of day,
And her bosom white as the hawthorn buds,
That ope in the month of May.

The Skipper he stood beside the helm,
His pipe was in his mouth,
And he watched how the veering flaw did blow
The smoke now West, now South.

Then up and spake an old Sailor,
Had sailed the Spanish Main,
"I pray thee, put into yonder port,
for I fear a hurricane.

"Last night the moon had a golden ring,
And to-night no moon we see!"
The skipper, he blew whiff from his pipe,
And a scornful laugh laughed he.

Colder and louder blew the wind,
A gale from the Northeast,
The snow fell hissing in the brine,
And the billows frothed like yeast.

Down came the storm, and smote amain
The vessel in its strength;
She shuddered and paused, like a frighted steed,
Then leaped her cable's length.

"Come hither! come hither! my little daughter,
And do not tremble so;
For I can weather the roughest gale
That ever wind did blow."

He wrapped her warm in his seaman's coat
Against the stinging blast;
He cut a rope from a broken spar,
And bound her to the mast.

"O father! I hear the church bells ring,
Oh, say, what may it be?"
"Tis a fog-bell on a rock bound coast!" --
And he steered for the open sea.

"O father! I hear the sound of guns;
Oh, say, what may it be?"
Some ship in distress, that cannot live
In such an angry sea!"

"O father! I see a gleaming light.
Oh say, what may it be?"
But the father answered never a word,
A frozen corpse was he.

Lashed to the helm, all stiff and stark,
With his face turned to the skies,
The lantern gleamed through the gleaming snow
On his fixed and glassy eyes.

Then the maiden clasped her hands and prayed
That saved she might be;
And she thought of Christ, who stilled the wave,
On the Lake of Galilee.

And fast through the midnight dark and drear,
Through the whistling sleet and snow,
Like a sheeted ghost, the vessel swept
Tow'rds the reef of Norman's Woe.

And ever the fitful gusts between
A sound came from the land;
It was the sound of the trampling surf,
On the rocks and hard sea-sand.

The breakers were right beneath her bows,
She drifted a dreary wreck,
And a whooping billow swept the crew
Like icicles from her deck.

She struck where the white and fleecy waves
Looked soft as carded wool,
But the cruel rocks, they gored her side
Like the horns of an angry bull.

Her rattling shrouds, all sheathed in ice,
With the masts went by the board;
Like a vessel of glass, she stove and sank,
Ho! ho! the breakers roared!

At daybreak, on the bleak sea-beach,
A fisherman stood aghast,
To see the form of a maiden fair,
Lashed close to a drifting mast.

The salt sea was frozen on her breast,
The salt tears in her eyes;
And he saw her hair, like the brown sea-weed,
On the billows fall and rise.

Such was the wreck of the Hesperus,
In the midnight and the snow!
Christ save us all from a death like this,
On the reef of Norman's Woe!

By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.


Honeybee said...

My mother was of that generation and used "I look like the wreck of the Hesperus" quite often, though, in fact, she was always quite lovely looking (despite riding herd on 6 children). I wonder what phrases I've often spoken will be remembered and quoted by my kids. Certainly nothing as literary as the words of Longfellow. P.S. Amazing that the pillows stayed on the porch swing!

Jerilynn said...

Love this. For some reason this reminds me of two poems - for no tied-in reason. The first is Jabberwocky. In my advanced placement English class in high school, the teacher rearranged all the lines and our assignment was to put them together to make sense, no fair looking up the poem. The second poem that comes to mind is the Walrus and the Carpenter, which is a very gruesome poem indeed. Not for children at all! Our back deck furniture, quite heavy, and the rug were all push up against the glass doors. It is a wonder that they didn't just make themsleves at home inside where it was cozy.