This post celebrates a young man called Leopold Blaschka who was very unhappily becalmed on a sailing ship in the Azores in 1853.
The ship was carrying European migrants to a new life in America. Everyone was upset at being stranded in mid ocean but Leopold was also struggling with grief; his wife and child died in 1850 and his father in 1852. To amuse the bored passengers the sailors let down buckets and hauled up deep sea creatures. Leopold, who was an artist and glassblower, was fascinated.
Later he returned to Europe and, with his son from a second marriage, he became famous for making anatomically correct and beautiful glass models. These scientific artworks can be seen in museums around the world. Here are some in Cardiff Museum
In the poem ‘Becalmed’ Leopold sees the sea creatures for the first time.
Becalmed, I dream the sea is glass,
the wind and ocean lifeless now,
we wait for movement in the vast
and empty sky above our boat.
The wind and ocean lifeless now,
the dead run in my thoughts. A splash,
still empty sky above our boat
as idle sailors trawl the trifling wash.
The dead run in my thoughts. A splash
calls me towards the crowd
as idle sailors trawl the trifling wash
to catch the life that drifts below.
Calls me towards the crowd;
in spite of misery I’m curious
to catch the life that drifts below
and blooms in depths beyond my gaze.
In spite of misery I’m curious,
the flood of glistening forms that flow
and bloom in depths beyond my gaze
stir up a shivering thrill of awe.
The flood of glistening forms that flow,
the jellyfish and octopus,
stir up a shivering thrill of awe;
my pencil shadows slippery curves.
The jellyfish and octopus,
wild things that live so deep, unknown.
My pencil shadows slippery curves
deep ocean dreams now fill my soul.
Wild things that live so deep, unknown,
stir up a movement in the vast
deep ocean dreams that fill my soul,
becalmed, I dream the sea is glass.