Robert Lee, Sailor Poet

Pittsburgh Sidelights

May 1954

Pages 16 and 17

Pittsburgh’s Porter Poet

Sea Going Poet probes People

In All Walks of Life

It is pretty well agreed that the Irish have the gift of phrase, the art of conversational wit, and the habit of expressing themselves in clear and vital terms. This is no less true of porter Robert Lee, porter on the Pittsburgh steamer Ralph H. Watson, and sailor poet who has three volumes of poetry published under the titles “Halos are Heavy,” “Cracked Armor,” and “The Ragged Edge.”

Robert Lee is of an Irish origin, “more Irish than the Irish themselves. “His mother was a Lee of the Lees of Tralee, a family that followed the Stuarts and fled into exile, defying the persistence of Queen Elizabeth and surviving the violence of Cromwell. Along with Shaw and Joyce and other Irish writers, Lee has an alarming insight into people. a total way of measuring them that strips away their coverings and leaves them bare before his analysis. His pen denounces sham and hypocrisy, but in laying open human beings to expose their weakness, he is also forced to expose their goodness.

Lee is beginning his second year with Pittsburgh Steamship division. A veteran of several years’ service in the U.S. Navy where he served as ship’s cook, he lives in Cleveland Heights, Ohio.

The poetry of Robert Lee is entertaining. With his tongue in his cheek, he mirrors life through individual people, laughing sometimes at them, often with them. But one of his poetry’s greatest chams is its virility; for poetry can be vital and masculine. It can describe man’s feelings in a way that his conversation, his letters or even his music cannot.

RobertLee understands this use of poetry and he uses it forcefully.

Poems… Robert Lee

Molly Malone

It  was a hard world to face

With Dennis gone

And five young mouths to feed

But God was good;

He gave me two strong arms—

And a washtub!

Callie Flath

I was eighteen the year I married

Ebenezer Flath,

Stolid  and fat,

Going on forty,

A pillar of the church

And a prop in the First National

A thorough Christian gentleman

And one of our better citizens,

A perfect father

Abd a kind and loving husband

But, reader,

I did not die of liver trouble

(As old Doctor Jenkins said),

It was


 Miss Dalrymple

Miss Dalrymple, the socialite,

Is very proud of her


And why shouldn’t she be?

They stopped swinging by their


Several aeons ago

And have been struggling ever since

To produce

A flowering progeny

As glamorous


Miss Dalrymple.

Lavina Abernathy

Heaven is where we find it

To some, it may be around the corner,

And to others, beyond the stars.

It may be in a bit of heather

From the purple hills of home—

Or in the soft trembling of the heart.

And this I know—

As surely as God above and earth


There is a wee bit of the beauty of


In a tear shed in secret.

And all of the little silver bells of it


When a prayer is murmured in the

Deep silence of the night.

Old Mother

Do not weep, old Mother,

As the willow weeps beside the stilled


The bitter wind but ruffles the surface

The depths are as calm as the eyes of a woman

Drunk with love.

Do not weep, old Mother,

Still will be the drifting leaves,

The swallows’ flight across the dormant


Again will come the miracle of spring.

The cooing doves and love made tender.

Do not weep, old Mother,

Although sorrow binds thee.

The taunting laugher of the Gods

Is in the wind as it scatters

The dust of mortals and their deeds

Into oblivion—

Do not weep old Mother,

Their blessings rest upon thy head

As softly as almond blossoms fall

From the bended bough

In the stillness of the blue night.

Pittsburgh Sidelights

October 1956

More of Robert Lee

Pittsburgh Steamship’s porter-poet Robert Lee on the Steamer J. Pierpont Morgan has set his Irish wit to work again and submits the following verses to Sidelights for the critical evaluation and enjoyment of his shipmates in the fleet.

Movie Extra

I do not have a pretty face,

Or move about with lovely grace,

I know I cannot be a star,

But I can envy those who are.


If I were a king for a little while,

Fortune upon my friends would smile,

But don’t be confused or be misled,

The lions, too, would be well fed.

In a Beauty Salon

Of course, I know the lines are there,

The years have given me my share,

But kindly leave them where they are,

You cannot buy them in a jar!


Beware of the little things that men pass by,

There is more to them than meets the eye,

It may be an idle word, a casual glance.

All things depend on time and chance.

A Woman’s Heart

The wind cannot be snared in a golden net,

Or a wild thing caged and made a pet.

Fools may judge and the critics stone,

But a wise man leaves a heart alone.

Prayer Rug

Pittsburgh Sidelights

July 1958, page 10

I sit and contemplate this rug of prayer

Intricately patterned into a perfect whole;

Designed with every skill and care

To please alike both eye and soul.

The splendor of the day and of the night

Are both imprisoned here in silken web.

Age has but dimmed its colors bright

And added beauty to each slender thread.

As music lends enchantment to a fast

Beauty alone is born anew with age.

Here lies the dormant art craft of the East

That glows like holy words upon a faded page.

There are many devious ways in which to pray;

They pray who weave this beauty

I behold

Who toil their long and weary days away

Interlacing each with threads of gold.

Robert Lee, Stmr. A.H. Ferbert