06 March 2016

The Poetry of the Shipping Forecast

Britannia Designs, Dartmouth
Despite being the world's greatest landlubber, I have always loved the Met Office shipping forecast, especially when broadcast late at night on Radio 4, and I know I am not alone. Undoubtedly my own reason for this lifelong devotion is partly its splendid litany of place-names, beginning with that most evocative word of all, Viking, followed by North and South Utsire, named after Norway's smallest municipality Utsira. The forecast then ends its ramblings round the rocks and waters of the northwest European archipelago (and some nautically nearby places) in suitably Norse and Viking fashion with Fair Isle, Faeroes and South-East Iceland.

But it's not just this abundance of Norse and Viking references that I love. I would go so far as to argue that the shipping forecast follows some rules that make it into a kind of poetry, the kind of poetry I like.

(1) It is formulaic. The basic structure of the shipping forecast is the same every time, and it makes use of a pre-determined and traditional vocabulary and phrases with which both author and listeners are familiar. Occasionally moderate. Showers. Good. Cyclonic. 6 or 7 at first in west.

(2) But like all good formulaic poetry it rings the changes through variation. Moderate or rough. Rain or showers. Poor. Variable 4 becoming northwesterly for a time.

(3) It has a fixed structure, each part introduced by a formula to keep the listener orientated: 'The shipping forecast is issued...', 'The general synopsis at midday', 'The area forecasts for the next 24 hours'. Within each part the content is formulaic and always in the same order, though making use of variation as described above.

(4) Its formulaic nature gives it a regular, fairly predictable, if somewhat staccato, rhythm.

(5) It is primarily oral, though you can also read it on the page.

(6) It has a function (even if not for me). I like poetry that has a function other than that of being poetry. Because of its important function the shipping forecast has to be read in clear and unemotional tones, which thereby emphasise the drama of 'rough or very rough', or 'severe gale 9'.

As you snuggle in your warm bed tonight, just spare a thought for those in peril on the sea.

P.S. I'm not the only lover of the shipping forecast who owns the charming little dish pictured above. Thanks to my ever-vigilant other half who found it for me.


  1. Anonymous11/3/16 19:59

    So glad I stumbled upon this blog when trying to date RLS's 'Romance'. I've lived in the States for a long time but this pice has so evoked my childhood and listening to the radio! And what an interesting observation of it being poetic in nature. I'd never thought of that. Steve