Cicely Fox Smith

(1 February 1882 – 8 April 1954 / Lymm, Cheshire)

British Merchant Service - Poem by Cicely Fox Smith

Oh, down by Millwall Basin as I went the other day,
I met a skipper that I knew, and to him I did say:
“Now what’s the cargo, Captain, that brings you up this way?”

Oh, I’ve been up and down (said he) and round about also …
From Sydney to the Skagerack, and Kiel to Callao …
With a leaking steam-pipe all the way to Cali-forn-i-o …

“With pots and pans and ivory fans and every kind of thing,
Rails and nails and cotton bales, and sewer pipes and string …
But now I’m through with cargoes, and I’m here to serve the King!

“And if it’s sweeping mines (to which my fancy somewhat leans)
Or hanging out with booby-traps for the skulking submarines,
I’m here to do my blooming best and give the beggars beans!

“A rough job and a tough job is the best job for me,
And what or where I don’t much care, I’ll take what it may be,
For a tight place is the right place when it’s foul weather at sea!”

There’s not a port he does n’t know from Melbourne to New York;
He’s as hard as a lump of harness beef, and as salt as pickled pork …
And he’ll stand by a wreck in a murdering gale and count it part of his work!

He’s the terror of the fo’c’s’le when he heals its various ills
With turpentine and mustard leaves, and poultices and pills …
But he knows the sea like the palm of his hand, as a shepherd knows the hills.

He’ll spin you yarns from dawn to dark—and half of ’em are true!
He swears in a score of languages, and maybe talks in two! …
And he’ll lower a boat in a hurricane to save a drowning crew.

A rough job or a tough job—he’s handled two or three—
And what or where he won’t much care, nor ask what the risk may be …
For a tight place is the right place when there’s wild weather at sea!

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Poem Submitted: Monday, August 30, 2010

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