Thoughts At The Ferry. E V Lucas Essay. Reintroduced by P S Remesh Chandran.

36. Thoughts At The Ferry. E V Lucas Essay. Reintroduced by P.S.Remesh Chandran.

Editor, Sahyadri Books & Bloom Books, Trivandrum.


By PSRemeshChandra, 23rd Sep 2011.  Short URL
Posted in Wikinut  Essays


Ferrymen and their boats are a departing lot. The world depended on them much for thousands and thousands of years to reach destinations and return to home. But when bridges came to be built across rivers, they became of no use. But in remote hamlets and in unreachable parts of the world they still can be seen, transporting people across rivers, ensuring the onward progress and flow of human life. E.V.Lucas makes a quick glance into the mind of a ferryman.

Thoughts passing through the mind of a traveller as he is waiting for the ferryboat.

E.V.Lucas, along with A.G.Gardiner, led the renaissance in English essays. This gifted Londoner had a gifted tongue which he used for creating good English prose. A rich variety of subjects were brought to human attention by these writers in their plain, lucid language. Here we see Lucas waiting for the next ferry boat. Several thoughts pass through his mind which he pens down to make us aware of the ferry man’s strange situation. The ferryman and his boat are at the beck and call of all and he makes no complaints even when called at night.

Picture of the ferryman fading away from towns and villages as bridges are built across rivers.

Canoes, departing from the world. 1886

Ferrymen were an inevitable part and constituent of life in the old world. Villages and towns depended upon them to begin and to end days. Now bridges have come across almost all rivers and the ferrymen and the ferry are a departing picture. Today it is just a nostalgic remembrance for a few and majority of the population nowadays has not even seen a ferryman. What once was a common picture of human life lives now only in articles and essays of this kind.

The world literature is full of ferrymen and their boats.

Always at the beck and call of all. Scotland 1858

But the world literature and history is full of stories of their invaluable services. Had there been no ferryman as Guhan who was willing to transport Rama and Sita in his boat, the epic of Ramayana would have progressed in another way. Human souls would not have reached their assigned place had there been no reckless ferryman there to ferry them across Hades in the Stygian Land.

It is a universal legend that ferrymen sing. Who can sing in the presence of such silence and gloom?

Campsite of a ferryman. Always lives nearby.

Ferrymen everywhere are mostly gloomy. There is a wealth of reasons for their lack of mirth. One is the course of the boat. Had it travelled along the river it would have been a pleasure but it travels across the river always. It constantly crosses the river from side to side, and that too from the same spots on either side, which makes the journey monotonous and gloomy. Then, it is a legend that ferrymen sing. Lucas had as a boy a pretty song in his memory about the Twickenham Ferry. But in actuality the ferrymen never sing. Who could carol in the presence of such silence and gloom?

All the world may go wayfaring during Ramazan, Christmas and Passover but not he!

There are ferrywomen too in Kerala backwaters.

The ferryman shall not leave his post. It is expected that he would be present on his post day and night. This is another reason fro their gloominess. All the world may go wayfaring but not he! Many live in hovels close by. When Christmas, Ramazan and Passover comes, he should be there to transport those who go to partake in these festivities but he and his family cannot partake in them. He is always in the open with blowing breeze and racing clouds around him. Exciting sound of running water constantly falls in his ear. Such a thrilling and intoxicating atmosphere would have made anyone an explorer but the ferry man cannot leave his place. ‘Travel appears for us the exploration into the unknown but for him it is the narrow confines of the known.’

The ferryman is always there at the beck and call of all.

Monotonous journey, mute companions.

There is yet another reason for his hatred of mankind. Whenever we call he should be there. He may be annoyed, and it may add fuel to his misanthropic fire, but whenever we call he does come with the boat. Though he thus strives prompt and hard to serve the world, the world seems not to consider him enough. ‘Even great charitable persons like Carnegie have not left some legacy to any ferryman.’

Why do they write songs like ‘The Ferryman And The Goose?’ Why cannot they write ‘The Ferryman And The Swan?’

Hailing the ferryman. Daniel Knight 1910.

Companionship of the ferryman’s passengers is brief which also adds to his gloom. People of various cultures daily enter his boat providing him with good scope for conversation. But no sooner they reach the other bank of the river than they step out and are gone. Therefore ferrymen often keep dumb animals as their companions. Some carry dogs, some carry parrots and some others geese. These companions will have great fidelity to them. However, poetry titles like ‘The Ferryman and the Goose’ stain and degrade them. Why can’t they write something like ‘The Ferryman and the Swan?’ The ferrymen deserve the companionship of the better and the most beautiful. Thus, if we examine the more and the more closely, the ferrymen appear the more and the more dismal.

A fine song reflecting the righteousness and reserve of the old England times.

Prompt to come at any time. Edmund Blair Leighton.

Do not think there have not been good ferryman songs. Christina Rossetti’s ‘The Ferryman’ is a fine ferryman song in English literature. We can see in it the righteousness and English reserve of a ferryman of that time. The damsel in the song tempts the ferryman by mentioning that she has blue eyes which may mean she is blue-blooded, available or both but he does not fall into the seduction. This song, with a 21-year old ferryman and 18-year-old English girl is a fine piece for orchestration and filming. And the music Christina incorporated into this song is immortal. In fact, there have been multiple tunes to this song, one as slow rhythmic as a gently flowing stream and another as quick as a rapid. But no orchestration or filming has ever been made of this song. It is lying open, waiting for its time.

The Ferryman: Christina Rossetti’s famous song portraying the charm of bygone rural life.

A passenger is waiting on the other bank. Leighton


Christina Rossetti

Ferry me across the water
Do, do boatman do;
If you have a penny in your
Purse, I will do.

I have a penny in my purse
And my eyes are blue,
So ferry me across the water
Do, boatman do.

Step into my ferry boat
Be they black or blue,
And for the penny in your purse
I will ferry you.



Pictures Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons.


Dear Reader,

You are invited to kindly visit the Author’s Web Site of P.S.Remesh Chandran, Editor, Sahyadri Books & Bloom Books, Trivandrum at:

Translations of this article in French, German, Spanish and Italian published in can be read by clicking here.




Appreciations, Articles, British Authors, British Writers, Christina Rossetti, E V Lucas, English Literature, Essays, Ferryman Essays, Ferryman Literature, Ferryman Songs, Ferrymen And Their Lives, P S Remesh Chandran, Reintroductions, Renaissance In English Prose, Reviews, Sahyadri Books Bloom Books Trivandrum, The Ferryman, Thoughts At The Ferry

Meet the author

Editor of Sahyadri Books & Bloom Books,Trivandrum. Author of several books in English and in Malayalam. And also author of Swan : The Intelligent Picture Book.

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October 2011
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