The S.S. General Slocum was a passenger steamboat that caught fire and sank in the East River in New York. The disaster caused the largest loss of life in New York until the terrorist attacks of 9-11 nearly 100 years later.
Inspired by the story of the S.S. General Slocum, composer Charles Ives wrote an incredibly descriptive and unnerving piece of music to tell the story of the disaster. As you listen to the piece, you hear the sounds of the party aboard the ship, conflicting sounds from the shore and otherships until the boat crashes and sinks. He does this by having multiple melodies going on at once in different keys, which adds to the conflict and sense of impending catastrophe.
One of the other pieces that is referenced in this poem include Debussy’s “La cathédrale engloutie” (literally “The Swallowed Cathedral”) which tells the story of a Gothic cathedral which rises up out of the ocean (or as I like to picture it, a swamp) and then sinks back down. See the link below.
The third piece that is referenced is “The Flight of the Bumblebee” by Rimsky-Korsakov. The title is pretty self-explanatory.
And now for the poem:
The General Slocum Slough
It’s not that I don’t love
the commotion of The General Slocum,
but it is rather slow in coming
and jarring to the ear and running
rather longer than it ought to run.
Ought to run away.
Take the fortissimo
With The Flight of the Bumblebee
and La Cathédrale Engloutie
reaching for futurity
Desensitization is not
it is tacitly futile,
like drinking frozen castor oil.
It is the General Slocum slough.