Cicely Fox Smith

(1882-1954 / England)

John Company's Ships Poem by Cicely Fox Smith


John Company's ships, they sailed the seas -
The Merchant's Hope and the Trade's Increase ,
Globe and Dragon and Hector too,
Thames and Canning and Waterloo -
With gums and ingots and spice and silk,
Blood-red rubies and pearls like milk . . .
Idols of ivory, cups of jade,
Caskets of ebony gold-inlaid,
Lacquer and crystal, gifts for kings,
Brass and filigree, beads and rings,
Rugs like the sunset, madder and gold,
John Company's ships brought home of old.

John Company's ships, they were steady and slow,
Their tops'ls came in when it started to blow,
For their hulls were roomy and round and wide,
Bluff in the bows and big in the side,
And they loaded them deep and they crammed them full
With the cargoes they bought from the Great Mogul . . .
But they held their own when it came to a scrap
With a Barbary rover or any such chap,
And many a pirate or privateer
That had smacked his lips as the prize drew near
Limped home with his wounds at the last to tell
John Company's ships could fight as well.

John Company's ships, they went their way,
They cleared and they sailed for Dead Men's Bay,
With captains gallant in blue and gold,
And bawling bosuns and seamen bold,
Bows all splendid with gilt and glitter,
Pennants streaming and pipes a-twitter,
Carven stern-ports and guns arow,
Flashing brasses and decks like snow -
They went their way: and the gulls they call
On London's river, by old Blackwall,
And the winds they blow and the tides they run
The same to-day as they've always done:
But they are gone like a tale that's told -
John Company's ships of the days of old.

Submitted: Monday, August 30, 2010

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