On An Island With Kipling

Dear you, whoever you are,

     I found this sturdy leaf and pulled out my purple fountain pen from the back pocket of my soaked denim skirt, and decided to write this letter hoping you would find it.
When I was washed onto the white sand of this island, I befriended a seagull. She was gentle and kind and approached me when she heard the sound of my voice. Now, I have decided to let her go with this letter attached to her leg. She will return and when she does, I will know that she has found you.

     I would tell you my name, but my identity is unimportant for I am alone on a desert island and I know that no one will find me, even though there is a flicker of hope that makes me squint into the horizon, or scream for help even though my voice is lost in the waves.

     The sea is so blue, and it makes me smile, it allows me to forget my thirst and hunger and my constant panic of spending the rest of my life alone.

Since I am stranded and the only dream I have at night is of the shipwreck, the shrieks, the lifeless bodies floating in the grey waters, my lungs stinging as I slip out of consciousness. And then I recall waking up, bruised and shattered inside, and now I am writing this letter.

     Today is a day like any other, but it is today that I have decided to tell you of the few objects I have with me on this Island.

When the thunders boomed and the ocean roared, that feeling of dread and terror told me and many others that our lives were coming to an end. I ran to my bunk bed and ripped three Kipling poems from my big book of poems. I tucked them in the hem of my skirt and was thrown overboard so suddenly my heart must’ve stopped.

     I have always been small for a sixteen-year old but when the ocean pulled me down while I flailed, clinging on by only a thread, I felt like a mere drop of water in the vastness of the ocean, so very tiny that I was almost nothing. Almost but not quite.

     Now I must tell you what poems I chose and why. Firstly, I ripped the poem “If” for obvious reasons. It is motivating and would help me face death calmly, or as calmly as possible.
Now that I am on the island, I am glad I have this poem because it is my protector, shielding me from danger, and especially pushing me towards survival and away from death.
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”

     This is what I’m meant to do. I wake up in the morning, determined to hold on and I only allow my weakness to overtake me at night, in my dreams.
“If you can dream- and not make your dreams your master”
     I cannot dream of a better life, a family, friends, a home, a bed, no. If I do, I will get lost in my dreams and my sanity will gradually disappear until it is gone forever. Temptation to do things I shouldn’t is natural, but this poem helps me push my “want” away and focus on the “need”. For that I love it and guard it with my life.
     Just the other day, I caught myself staring out into the distance, drifting away and dreaming of a better life and then I staggered forwards and reached out to the sea, thinking: “Take me away, I give myself to you for I have nothing left”
But then I unfolded the poem “If” and realised Kipling was telling me to thrive, by trying to achieve all these impossible things, yes that was clear. But mostly he was telling me to survive, and to lead a good life. I could not give up, I could not be a coward, no. This poem is like food and water, vital for my survival.
     The second poem I took was “A Son” for it makes me cry but brings a melancholic smile to my lips every time I read it. That distant relationship between a father and his child makes me think of the life I had. It feel so far away but yet so near.
     I have always been a cocky girl, cracking jokes and grinning wide when people laughed at them, which was often. Laughter is scarce, non-existent on this island. I do not care if I sound vain, but I miss the sound of my own laughter. I long to giggle away until my stomach aches and then, just when I think I am done laughing, I start up all over again.
This poem allows me to grieve over the ones I have lost for they are gone, and I must remind myself of all the beautiful memories we created together.
     “A Son” touches me I think, in a way that is so bizarre that I did not understand it at first. Now I realise that I am the son. My father, who loved me so dearly but did not express his love, must be mourning my disappearance but laughing at all the silly things I have said and done. I cherish this poem, I truly do, but I cannot read it too many times: it reminds me so much of home, if I have one, and of the ones the sea swept away.
     The third and final Kipling poem I frantically tore from my book is one of my favourite poems of all time, especially now that it feels like it’s been written just for me. “My Boy Jack”. It makes me weep
for hours, but they aren’t the loud, uncontrollable sobs that make your shoulders shake violently as you gasp for air. The tears run silently and slowly over my cool cheeks and I do not wipe them away.  It is how I face the acceptance of loss, or how I try to, because my hope is still there, shoved into a corner at the very back of my mind.
    I need this poem because it makes me feel as if though being afraid of the sea is natural, or even good, because when we approach it and it examines us, the ocean has the power to creep towards us and wrap us in its death wrath. It engulfed so many into its merciless waters, but not I. Why not me? I have my theories of why I am still alive, all of them spiritual and probably meaningless even though I do believe that our imagination is our greatest gift and without it, we would be worthless.
     I remember mentioning that “If” is a poem I need to survive and stay sane but the power “A Son” holds over me is incomparable. This poem is the ocean, the ocean that lessens my pain by obliging me to face it.
“Then hold your head up all the more,
This tide,
And every tide;
Because he was the son you bore,
And gave to that wind blowing and that tide!’’

     This verse has me swelling with confidence and facing the ocean, the tide, and the waves: the sighs and groans of the ocean. I approach the shore and I think to myself that no matter how many tears I shed, or how many times I wish that the sea had washed me away to Hell, I am alive for a reason and I will survive. I will do it to make the ocean proud, myself proud and most importantly, my family, because this is what they would’ve wanted, I’m sure of it.
   Now, I look upon the glassy, deep blue waters with the three poems that have kept me alive clutched tightly to my chest and I let them go, all too reluctantly. I know them by heart, they are imbedded in my soul and I just hope they will find someone who needs them more than I.
“Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind”- Rudyard Kipling


Alice Bellan