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The Religion of a Sailor

A sea captain when he stands upon the bridge, or looks out from his
deck-house, thinks much about God and about the world. Away in the
valley yonder among the corn and the poppies men may well forget all
things except the warmth of the sun upon the face, and the kind shadow
under the hedge; but he who journeys through storm and darkness must
needs think and think. One July a couple of years ago I took my supper
with a Captain Moran on board the S.S. Margaret, that had put into a
western river from I know not where. I found him a man of many notions
all flavoured with his personality, as is the way with sailors. He
talked in his queer sea manner of God and the world, and up through all
his words broke the hard energy of his calling.

"Sur," said he, "did you ever hear tell of the sea captain's prayer?"

"No," said I; "what is it?"

"It is," he replied, "'O Lord, give me a stiff upper lip.'"

"And what does that mean?"

"It means," he said, "that when they come to me some night and wake me
up, and say, 'Captain, we're going down,' that I won't make a fool o'
meself. Why, sur, we war in mid Atlantic, and I standin' on the bridge,
when the third mate comes up to me looking mortial bad. Says he,
'Captain, all's up with us.' Says I, 'Didn't you know when you joined
that a certain percentage go down every year?' 'Yes, sur,' says he; and
says I, 'Arn't you paid to go down?' 'Yes, sur,' says he; and says I,
'Then go down like a man, and be damned to you!"'

William Butler Yeats