Tolleson, DL. “The Harbor.”
Tolleson, DL. “The Harbor.”
The narrative of The Harbor: A young man who is eager to talk of his new love interest and discuss his fears of a relationship, goes into a pub wherein he strikes up a conversation with a mapmaker who is a seasoned sailor. The mapmaker is consumed with the story of a particular harbor that he had mapped in the past. Because of the reefs near the harbor the mapmaker never took his ship into it, choosing instead to carefully probe and map every detail of the cove. So taken by the harbor, the mapmaker notes that the place caressed his senses and no matter how rough the seas, he was able to depend upon that harbor being calm. But even though he so closely studied the harbor, knew all of its depths and obvious problems, he never once risked more than taking a rowboat into it. At the end of his story, the mapmaker leaves, carrying with him some obviously unspoken despair.
The narrator then seeks out the barkeep and inquires about the mapmaker. The barkeep tells the story of a ship captain who was a mapmaker by trade. One day the Captain/mapmaker found a hidden harbor that was the home of a beautiful young woman. It is because the Captain/mapmaker was so taken with the young woman that he went to such lengths to map the harbor—spending every day doing so. The barkeep tells us that the young woman was kind and that the Captain’s previously hardened heart felt affection. But the Captain never spoke to the woman of his heart or his plans—if any—regarding her. A rogue wave outside the harbor assaulted the Captain’s ship and all hands were saved but one: The Captain himself. Before his death he instructed a crewman to tell the maiden that his sin was in not taking a risk (to form a relationship) and that his punishment was regret.
Thus we learn that the Captain/mapmaker with whom the narrator spoke was a mere ghost or spirit. The encounter prompts the young man to risk the next step in his own relationship—to offer more than just charting a future; to offer love while he has the time to share it.
Throughout the story everything is more or less symbolic of the message learned by the narrator. The Captain/mapmaker is filled with such regret that he cannot bring himself to even speak of the maiden he never pursued. Instead he speaks of the harbor, which is symbolic of the maiden. His ship, which he references only rarely, is symbolic of his emotional heart—something he never commits even though he knows the harbor (the maiden) well.
The narrator of the poem arrives at the bar to gush about his lover and to express his fears of a relationship. Everything after he walks through the door is a message of commitment—literal in context of the poem’s story and symbolical in context of the poem’s content. As for the mechanics of the poem, don’t look for Iambic, Trochee, Dactyl, or Anapestic meter—or any other traditional poetic conventions of style and structure. The only structure is six-syllable lines that rhyme the second and last lines each stanza—a few of which I’ve tweaked over the course of time.
I have even re-composed the last two stanzas, shifting away from what the narrator’s maiden may—or may not—have desire of the narrator. I have instead re-focused on what is best learned from the Captain/Mapmaker’s story: And this is to say that the storms of life may arise at any moment, stealing away the only two things worth sharing: time and your life.
The mapmaker was young