Monday, January 19, 2009

"The Tides" - A poem

With plans heating up for tidal power here in the Bay of Fundy, I thought you might find this poem amusing. This was written back in the 1920s, when the only technology considered for harnessing tidal power was a barrage (full causeway - hugely damaging to the environment - across the bay!). Luckily, we've given up on that idea, but, recently, equipment used to assess tidal power potential here was destroyed in the Bay during testing!

From Grace Helen Mowat's 1928 book Funny Fables of Fundy....

A stranger once said to the tides in the Bay:
"How strange you should live in this indolent way;
You crawl up the strand then crawl down again
Why can't you be useful and helpful to men?
For the past thousand years you have been just the same,
Such an idle existence! It's really a shame!"

The tides, rather ruffled, cried "What do you wish?
We fill up the fish weirs and bring in the fish
And drift-wood and rock-weed and much else besides.
Why, everyone waits for the turn of the tides!
We've washed the shores clean and never once shirked
If you did half as much you would feel overworked!'

"I propose," said the stranger (ignoring their theme),
"To use all your strength in a practical scheme.
I studied at college before I came here,
And everyone thinks me a great engineer!
I can hardly expect you to know who I am,
But I'm seriously thinking of building a dam
To keep you in bounds, till I need you, of course,
And then I expect to control you by force.
You can turn wheels and cranks by this simple device
And greatly aid commerce. Now won't that be nice?"

The waves made no answer to what the man said;
But talking it over that evening in bed
They grumbled and murmured: "We need not fear him;
Beside our great strength his adventure looks slim.
If he built up this, it is perfectly plain,
We must all push together and break it again.
And, if this arrangement should fail to survive,
We can wash in a shark that will eat him alive!"

The engineer tactfully waited awhile
Then, appearing next morning, he said with a smile:
"Dear tides, I am taking a trip up to town,
I hope you need something that I can bring down?"

They haughtily said: "You may bring, if you wish,
Some good gelatine for the young jelly-fish."

The item he added at once to his list,
And spoke of returning before he was missed;
And just as he promised, came home the next night,
His pockets all bulging with plans, blue and white,
The gelatine too he remembered to bring
(For jelly-fish need it so much in the spring!)
"These plans," he explained, "will be gold to your shore
By giving employment to men by the score."

But the tides in a voice that was hollow and cold,
Said: "Our fishes are silver; we don't care for gold."

"How hopelessly dull," cried the great engineer.
"My college diploma is little use here!
"I cannot express how this talk makes me feel!",
And appearing quite angry, he turned on his heel.

The sea-gulls brought word that a numerous band
Of workmen were filling the channel with sand,
And talked or erecting a barrier so high,
That no tides could cross over unless they could fly.

"Very well," said the tides, "let him do as he will,
And we for a time will keep perfectly still
And wait for the Equinox gales in the Fall -
And they you will see what becomes of this wall!"

The sea-gulls that Autumn all gathered in flocks,
To await the return of the fall Equinox.
They were fighting for seats with the plovers and crows,
When all of a sudden the Equinox rose!

With rushing and roaring the tides came apace -
And dealt the great structure a slap in the face!

The engineer, viewing the frantic attack,
Admonished hte tides that they better keep back!
But they cried, "We are holding our annual ball,
When the Equinox comes for a dance in the fall."

Then the tides with fantastic grimaces upreared,
And the engineer groaned, "It is just as I feared!"
Down, down, went the dam and the sea-wall besides,
And the engineer fell with the wreck of the tides.
And the waves washed his pockets as clean as could be
And carried his plan and his gold out to sea.

He may have survived, for i know he could swim,
But the tides never more have been bothered with him.

These facts tell us plainly to look on all sides
Before we are tempted to tamper with tides;
And when we are strangers, wherever we go,
There's always a side that we still do not know;
And if we too suddenly start to reform
Our plans and our gold may be lost in the storm!


TIANB said...


That is a fabulous poem. Thank you for sharing.


opit said...

Mudflats are a tough location to place engineering projects without the complicating factor of shear changes I should expect.
The proposal I recall used small islands in the Minas Basin as end points for a divided enclosure which circulated water inside itself during the time Bay waters were roughly equal to the inside height. The Hopewell flowerpots give evidence that things get interesting on the edge of our favourite tidal basin.
The poem is fair warning for hubris. Mariners of the most dangerous waters in the world can relate.
I haven't been down for several years, unfortunately. Your posts are a special treat.