Saturday, February 28, 2009

John Updike's "Shipbored"

(Image from CRS Archives)

This morning, I came across an article, "Requiem," written by Wes Davis in The New Republic about the death of John Updike, and it led me to read an Updike poem that I hadn't seen before:
That line is the horizon line. (1)
The blue above it is divine. (2)

The blue below it is marine. (3)
Sometimes the blue below is green. (4)

Sometimes the blue above is gray,
Betokening a cloudy day. (5)

Sometimes the blue below is white,
Foreshadowing a windy night. (6)

Sometimes a drifting coconut
Or albatross adds color, but (7)

The blue above is mostly blue.
The blue below and I are, too. (8)
I found this poem with the image and notes at the CRS Archives -- hosted by the CRS Center for Leadership and Management in the Design and Construction Industry . . . of all places to find an Updike poem!

The first four lines of this poem also appear in the central story of a short story triptych, "The Blessed Man of Boston, My Grandmother's Thimble, and Fanning Island," written in the spring of 1961, or so I have from pages 75-76 of William H. Pritchard's Updike biography, Updike: America's Man of Letters (2005). Wes Davis, however, informs us that the full poem was written in 1954.

I'm curious where CRS obtained it, for the CRS Archives provide the late date 1969, and seem to imply that the image comes from Updike's own hand.

Does anybody know where the image originates?

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At 6:07 AM, Blogger Barbara said...

Don't know origin. I googled to your blog today because my 91-year old stepmom just recited this poem to me today and I was looking for the test of the poem. She originally saw it in "The New Yorker" many years ago and sent a letter to John Updike praising the poem and his creativity. A lenghty correspondence over some years resulted. Thanks for reproducing the poem and "cartoon"--I'll send her a copy which I know she will enjoy!


At 7:14 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Barbara, thanks for the comment. It's great that Updike took the time to reply and even developed a friendship with your stepmother. He must have been a thoughtful individual . . . as also your stepmother must be.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 3:29 PM, Anonymous Irl S. Barefield said...

A friend just sent me the link to this. I've been looking for the poem for eighteen years, literally, bringing all kinds of both scholarly research, searches on google and the like, and even the New Yorker -- but I didn't have it's title. All I had to go on was a wrongly remembered (he admitted it) version of it that appeared in Nicholson Baker's first book, U & I, which explores his obsession with updike. Thank you for ending one of those insane obsessions that I've spent hundreds of hours on since the early '90s!

At 3:37 PM, Anonymous Irl S. Barefield said...

OOOPs. Just entered my email address in the form slot that asked for a URL. Don't worry about the warning that generates should you click on my name. I have yahoo mail and it just takes you to

Better yet, if anyone wishes to email, just email me at

Thanks. (The URL in THIS post is to my facebook profile).

At 3:43 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I'm pleased to learn that my blog has actually been of some assistance.

What are you going to do with the poem now that you've found it?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:56 PM, Anonymous Rabbit said...

In the early twentieth century, in his series of lectures entitled Pragmatism, the philosopher and psychologist William James advanced the thesis that, broadly speaking, people can be separated into two general categories of personality – tough minded and tender minded.

At 8:11 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Let me link properly for you . . . even though I can't see much connection between my post and yours

Jeffery Hodges

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