Cicely Fox Smith
The North Atlantic Trade - Poem by Cicely Fox Smith
As I was walking beside the docks I met a pal o' mine
I sailed with once on the Colonies' run in Thomson's White Star Line;
Said I, 'What cheer - what brings you here?' 'Why, 'aven't you 'eard?' he said;
'I'm under the Windsor 'ouse-flag now in the North Atlantic trade.
We sweep a bit an' we fight a bit-an' that's what we like the best -
But a towin' job or a salvage job, they all go in with the rest;
When we aren't too busy upsettin' old Fritz an' his frightfulness blockade,
A bit of all sorts don't come amiss in the North Atlantic trade.'
'And how does old Atlantic look?' 'Oh, round an' about the same;
'E 'asn't seemed to alter a lot since I've been in the game;
'E's about as big as 'e always was, an' 'e's pretty well just as wet
(Or, if there's some parts anyway dry, well, I 'aven't struck none yet!),
There's the same old bust-up, same old mess, when a green sea breaks inboard,
An' the equinoctials roarin' by the same as they've always roared,
An' the West Wind playin' the same old larks 'e's been at since the world was made -
They've a peach of a time, 'ave sailormen, in the North Atlantic trade.'
'And who's your skipper, and what is he like?' 'Oh, well, if you want to know,
I'm sailin' under a hard-case mate as I sailed with years ago;
'E's big an' bucko an' full o' beans, the same as 'e used to be
When I knowed 'im last in the windbag days when first I followed the sea.
'E was worth two men at the lee fore brace, an' three at the bunt of a sail;
'E'd a voice you could 'ear to the royal-yards in the teeth of a Cape 'Orn gale;
But now 'e's a full-blown lootenant an' wears the twisted braid,
Commandin' one of 'is Majesty's ships in the North Atlantic trade.'
'And what is the ship you're sailin' in?' 'Oh, she's a bit of a terror -
She ain't no bloomin' levvyathan, an' that's no fatal error!
She scoops the seas like a gravy-spoon when the gales are up an' blowin',
But Fritz 'e loves 'er above a bit when 'er fightin' fangs are showin'.
The liners go their 'aughty way an' the cruisers take their ease,
But where would they be if it wasn't for us, with the water up to our knees?
We're wadin' when their soles are wet, we're swimmin' when they wade,
For I tell you small craft gets it a treat in the North Atlantic trade!'
'And what is the port you're plying to?' - 'When the last long trick is done
There'll some come back to the old 'ome port - 'ere's 'opin' I'll be one! -
But some 'ave made a new landfall, an' sighted another shore,
An' it ain't no use to watch for them, for they won't come 'ome no more.
There ain't no 'arbour dues to pay when once they're over the bar,
Moored bow an' stern in a quiet berth where the lost three-deckers are,
An' there's Nelson 'oldin' 'is one 'and out an' welcomin' them that's made
The roads o' Glory an' the port of Death in the North Atlantic trade!'
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