Good Captains

From daring to despair runs common man.
A vane to changing winds is his own mind.
One hour he may so boldly think, “I can!”
The next, poor fool to nagging doubt’s inclined,
His confidence, which feathers to his thought,
Is faltering as courage ebbs away.
The previous bravado comes to naught,
Uncertainties upon convictions play.
But there are men unswayed in breeze nor gale;
Fortitude’s strong anchor keeps them placed.
And though they see their shipmates’ faces pale,
They know each storm and tempest must be faced.
__Determined then their ship, their crew to save,
__Good captains never quake for any wave.

The ordinary seaman may be brave
For moments, when forgetting, he’ll show pluck,
But there are times when he will play the knave
And, weighing risk, his duty surely duck.
The owed allegiance to his fellow crew
Is tempered by his own will to survive.
Respect of brother sailors he’ll eschew
To better chance of reaching port alive.
No option mulls the master of the ship
Who keeps the bridge ‘til storm and dangers pass;
Though rigging fail and sodden canvas rip,
He’ll urge his crew to fight. But then, alas,
__Should “Men, abandon ship!” be his last shout,
__‘Twill be an order he himself may flout

A captain’s stronger than the barque he sails
When in extremity he stays to drown.
Though timber in the test of tempest fails,
He is stout-hearted not to gain renown.
His death will not from others garner thanks
Nor win from seeming failure some respite—
Then why be loyal to those trunnelled planks
‘Cept from a sense of doing what is right.
So, guardian of his vessel’s unharmed state
And trusted with the welfare of his crew,
He knows man can get even with his fate
Only by doing all he needs to do.
__No law of him requires this sacrifice
__It’s simply seen as honour’s, duty’s price.



Achievement Surpasses Happiness

So fleet of foot is happiness in life
If we compare it to that laggard care.
With worry, sadly, is existence rife,
Thus peace of mind and true contentment rare.
Yet there are moments when our dark clouds part
And rays of warming sunlight briefly show
Though beams as these may thaw the coldest heart,
The joy they bring proves just a passing glow.
But man is not a beast with simple needs,
Or satisfied with comfort, food and drink.
The human mind on each new challenge feeds
And rapture seldom helped his brain to think.
__Euphoria ne’er Seven Wonders made,
__And how their glories much less quickly fade.



Philip Keefe was born in Wales and educated in England. A sometime carpenter, sailor and song lyricist he is now a naturalized American citizen retired and living in Rockledge, Florida.


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12 Responses

  1. Martin Rizley

    Thank you for sharing these well-written and thought-provoking poems. They seem to share a common perspective on life as something difficult and challenging that must be faced with manly courage and with a commitment to doing what is right and honorable, no matter the cost. I found the first poem to be a worthy tribute to brave sea captains (and others) who refuse to “abandon ship” when the going gets rough. Both poems recall the spirit of “gritty realism” one finds in Kipling with their emphasis on the need to “take life by the horns” and answer the call of duty to the end, come what may.

    • Philip Keefe

      Thank you very much for your comment, Martin. I very much appreciate it. I think we all try to do the right thing most of the time, a few do it all the time.

  2. James A. Tweedie

    Philip, These are finely-crafted poems with a strong and well-articulated message celebrating the virtues of courage, leadership, and steadfastness. The missing (and occasionally misplaced) punctuation is an unfortunate distraction and needs to be remedied. I do not ordinarily offer suggestions but since the poems are so solid and the tweaks are so small I will make an exception.
    In the first poem there is a double negative in line 9 and a missing iamb in line 10. I suggest this:

    But there are men unswayed by breeze or gale
    Whose fortitude’s strong anchor keeps them placed.

    Lastly, I cannot make sense out of the final line of the second poem. Even so, your poems were so vividly written that I could smell the sea salt in the air as I read them. Nicely done.

  3. Philip Keefe

    Thank you James, for your comment. You are right about the double negative in line 9 and about the missing, what I in my ignorance would call, syllable in line 10. I need to work on punctuation in the future.
    Regarding the last line of the second poem I guess I was saying that the glories of the Seven Wonders of the World fade more slowly than euphoria which in my own experience doesn’t last very long at all! But if you could not make sense of it, it is not as good a line as I thought.

    • James A. Tweedie

      I see the sense in it now, thank you. And I agree with you as regards the fleeting nature of emotional highs. Great themes for your good poems.

  4. C.B. Anderson

    The first poem was, in general, a good tribute to the stout-hearted leaders who put honor above personal survival, but in the first stanza, lines nine and ten, you run afoul of English usage and syllable count. “or” and not “nor.” These two lines would be better written as:

    But there are men unswayed in breeze or gale,
    Since fortitude’s strong anchor keeps them placed.

    And I concur with Mr. Tweedie that the concluding couplet

    I realize that I have just repeated Mr. Tweedie’s comment. Great minds think alike, I guess.

    The first two lines of the second poem are ambiguous: Do you mean that laggard, care? in which case laggard and care are nouns in apposition, or do you mean something else? In the following lines, some necessary commas are missing, and, in fact there is a need for better punctuation throughout. I can’t offer concrete solutions because so much of the meaning depends on the punctuation, and, as things stand, it’s hard to tell what you really mean. Probably a semicolon after “show” would be a good start to reset the train of thought.

    I concur with Mr. Tweedie’s comment on the final couplet, which seems to sum up nothing. And, unlike him, I can’t quite smell the salt air.

    • Philip Keefe

      Thank you C.B. Anderson for reading my poems and for your comments. You are right about laggard and care. Somehow between submission and posting the dash I had between the two words went missing, but perhaps a colon would have been even better? I do have difficulty with punctuation though I have read a little about it and will try to improve.
      Your suggestions about changes the other poem are well taken, thank you.

  5. Stephen Hagerman

    Hello Mr. Keffer, I like your sonnet sequence but I am also a little unsure of some of the punctuation. Do you spend time at sea in Florida? Some of the nomenclature is a bit unfamiliar to me. While the first is a nice sonnet sequence, I’m just not feeling the salt spray in my face. I too like your second offering a little better, “Achievement Surpasses Happiness.” The flow of thought works well here, with perhaps the exception of L2. Just what do you mean by “laggard care?” it seems a bit ambiguous. I’m curious as to why you offset the conclusion? I can very much relate to the theme and meaning in this last sonnet and very much agree. The sonnet is such a pleasure to read. For its rigid form it is difficult to master but when one masters the structure and intent of this form, it is very useful when applied as it was meant to be. Probably why, after 500 years it is still one of the more popular forms for writers.

    • Peter Hartley

      Philip – I liked this little trilogy very much apart from the double negative mentioned above which is so easily remedied by changing “nor” to “or”. But the rest of these verses are so academically accurate in their Shakespearean form that this mistake must surely be a simple oversight or typo? They describe qualities of courage, mettle and steadfastness that some would say are largely lost today. Very pleasant to read.

      • Philip Keefe


        Thank you for pointing out the nor/or point which I hope will be changed. Otherwise I am very glad that you appreciated the subject matter of Good Captains. Your comment “very pleasant to read” means a lot. Thank you

    • Philip Keefe

      Dear Stephen,

      Thank you for reading my poems and taking the trouble to comment. I do appreciate it. I am trying to get the line “laggard care” changed back to the original “laggard – care” The dash was left out somehow when posted.
      I think there is a convention to offset the last two lines of a sonnet. I do that thinking that those lines are something of a “summing up”.
      Your message was very encouraging – thanks again.


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