This is not a happy poem and granted at the moment these are not happy times.
I read a short biography of the poet who had a somewhat turbulent life. He married without consent of the brides father and this lost him a nice comfy position at court. From that point on, he lived a difficult life marked by poverty and compromise, but it seems that eventually he found his way to something a bit better.
I understand his angst, mistakes of the heart are the most difficult, we make them willingly and with hope. We only have ourselves to blame. We never thought that the thing we loved would be the wrong choice, because how can love be the wrong choice?
In a perfect world, it wouldn’t. In a perfect world, the things we seek out of love would always bring us fulfillment and success, or, at least, forgiveness. Yet, like fools, we cast our fates out to the sea, certain that the Captain will be able to confidently navigate the nasty weather and the irksome ocean geography. And we are certain as we start that we will definitely win the day. And in a perfect world that sort of confidence would be rewarded with victory – not mutually assured destruction (as in this poem “…did their shot decay;/So all were lost…”).
In a perfect world, the Titanic should not have hit that iceberg. In a perfect world, we shouldn’t lose our 10-year-olds to their first cabin assignments on a cargo boats. But the Titanic did sink and many 10-year-olds were lost. And though we can never expect that the things we love will always bring us fulfillment or success, just as we can never guarantee that even with the best of technology today boats will not be taken by the ocean (by storm, by loss of engines, by pirates, by war), we can learn to forgive those who tried and lost and did so for love, that is the beauty of the human heart.
A Burnt Ship
by John Donne
Out of a fired ship which by no way
But drowning could be rescued from the flame
Some men leaped forth, and ever as they came
Near the foe’s ships, did by their shot decay;
So all were lost, which in the ship were found,
They in the sea being burnt, they in the burnt ship drowned.