Promenade maritime du Havre à Caen, Morlent

Promenade maritime du Havre à Caen
Joseph Morlent, 1844
Boat Trip from Le Havre to Caen
Joseph Morlent, 1844
(Translation to English by Marilyn Gosz, 2012)

Excerpt from Chapter One:


Oh! I returned to see
Your granite pier, where in the evening the women
Come to breathe the air of the perfumed waves,
And your coast seeded with flowers and villas;
And standing at the promontory, these two twin beacons
In the night, with an eye of fire, watching over our vessels;
And your arid cliff, at your old gray tower
Where for three hundred years the sea breaks in vain.

A few minutes ago, it lay stranded lifelessly on its bed of mud, our lovely steamer, awaiting the tide that would softly lift its graceful bow, and the tide come to reclaim it where it had left it and deliver it to its frolic without danger. See the meekness with which it acquiesces to the movement that the tide dictates, as it awakes and takes life, as life returns to it; a slight shifting of balance, already it no longer clings to the ground : one could say that it is in a hurry to distance itself from the damp walls that mask its flanks and hide its slender shape and its stylish carriage.
Already the three strokes of the bell have sounded. The steam escapes with a sharp whistle from the long, metal tube that surrounds it and, noisily, the steam spreads in a white-ish cloud and redescends in a pinkish color on the forward and back parts of the boat, according to the direction of the wind which should shorten or lengthen our water excursion. The dockside is filled with a triple row of the curious who come to cheer our departure: there, is said a last goodbye; there, the hands of friends grip each other … but the speedy propulsion blades of Le Calvados are in motion. They have moved our sailing ship and the words “good trip,” “write to me,” intersect and lose themselves in the air in the middle of the commotion. Already the absence has begun. Words are powerless to make understood the last declarations of friendship, of affection or of politeness. It is the gesture that replaces the word while, quickly disappearing, the merciless engine takes the ship which turns and swims in the foam, leaving behind on the waters its plumes of mist.

The steamer moves proudly in front of a flotilla of little unmoored boats, vigilant sentinels of the waterway, who never fail at their assignment; it is in these small boats, of such miserable appearance, that our intrepid pilots hurry to rush into the middle of tempests, to take it can be said, by the hand, the big ship in peril, and to guide it to harbor, across the dangers that bristle at the entrance; how many pay with their life for this generous recklessness.

At the foot of these walls, beaten by the surf, lies a bank of pebbles called the southern shingle-bank. It is a deadly danger to ships who miss the entry to the harbor and then are broken by the tempest in several hours and scattered on this beach, famous, each year, for more than one shipwreck. It is the despair of the sailor who, escaping the dangers of a long sea voyage, is cruelly run aground only several feet from the object of his efforts.

We skirt the northern pier, the favorite strolling area of foreigners, maintained with a care that resembles flirtation, and visited every day by a large portion of the population of Le Havre, of which it is the meeting place at the time of high tide. A belt of granite surrounds it, a small beacon ends it, and its straight platform often has difficulty containing the crowd that jostles together to participate in the impressive spectacle of the entrance or the exit of ships, whether the sky is clear and the breeze light or whether the wind blows violently and the gray and tempestuous waves darken the strange panorama.

But this lovely and strong belt of granite is often powerless to protect it from the shock of ships that are abruptly pushed by the swell. One of the first days of February, last year, the American ship The Emperor, upon entering into the harbor, hit it so violently that it overturned three foundation sections of the wall cap and shook the others at a height of over eighteen feet. The stem of the ship was almost crushed. When one has seen the piers of Le Havre, built in blocks of the granite of Cherbourg, linked together by iron bolts and encased in cement, which has the hardness of rock, one is struck with amazement that the motion of the sea can succeed in overturning these constructions that appear to be resistant over centuries.

We have passed the pier and already the city escapes us. On a long line, that appears winding from the south to the north, are displayed in the foreground the floating warships that protect the shoreline, the ovens that forge cannon balls, a gunpowder factory, and the shipbuilding yards, above which are displayed the frames of these beautiful ships of commerce.      

.- Seconde édition.- Le Havre : J. Morlent, 1844. 76 pages. 2 f. de pl. ; 16 cm.


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