The central facts of an immense sea tragedy are here. The main narrative lines of each stanza cadence a proud ship sailing at high speed, ending with a slow drawn drag, the silence of the empty sea that follows the "sinkin' down." As a poem, in accuracy of statement, in stresses of details, and in implicative quality, some would rate this above Longfellow's "Wreck of the Hesperus."
The arrangement here is based on the singing of Miss Bessie Zaban, formerly of Georgia and now of Chicago; a number of verses were sent to her by C. H. Currie of Atlanta, Georgia... The dialect is imperfectly rendered. Negro troops sang the song crossing the submarine zone and in the trenches overseas. The verses move smoothly, in even pulsations, like the stride of a great ocean liner with its turbines in good working order. The chorus words "ocean" and "Titanic" sway like a swiftly moving thing abruptly slowed down, struck, staggering and bewildered, while the words "sinkin' down" have the grave, quiet suspension of a requiem.
Lyrics as reprinted ibid., pp. 254-256.
De rich folks 'cided to take a trip
On de fines' ship dat was ever built.
De cap'n presuaded dese peoples to think
Dis Titanic too safe to sink.CHORUS:De ship lef' de harbor at a rapid speed,
Out on dat ocean,
De great wide ocean,
De Titanic, out on de ocean,
'Twuz carryin' everythin' dat de peeples need.
She sailed six-hundred miles away,
Met an icebug in her way.
De ship lef' de harbor, 'twuz runnin' fas'.
'Twuz her fus' trip an' her las',
Way out on dat ocean wide
An icebug ripped her in de side.
Up come Bill from de bottom flo'
Said de water wuz runnin' in de boiler do'.
Go back, Bill, an' shut yo' mouth,
Got forty-eight pumps to keep de water out!
Jus' about den de cap'n looked aroun',
He seed de Titanic wuz a-sinkin' down.
He give orders to de mens aroun':
"Get yo' life-boats an' let 'em down!"
De mens standin' roun' like heroes brave,
Nothin' but de wimin an' de chilluns to save;
De wimin an' de chillun a-wipin' dere eyes,
Kissin' dere husbands an' friends good-bye.
On de fifteenth day of May1 nineteen-twelve,
De ship wrecked by an icebug out in de ocean dwell.
De people wuz thinkin' o' Jesus o' Nazaree,
While de band played "Nearer My God to Thee!"