Cicely Fox Smith

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

Doldrums: One Of Murphy's Yarns - Poem by Cicely Fox Smith

Day after day the sun stared widely
Over the wide and windless seas;
Against the masts the sails drooped idly,
Unhanded, waiting for a breeze.

It seemed we should lie there for ever,
As if no wind till Judgment Day
Would set her royal clews a-quiver
And speed her southward on her way.

'I heard onst of a barque,' said Murphy.
'Becalmed, that couldn't get a breath,
Till all the crowd was sick with scurvy
An' the skipper drunk himself to death.'

'So then they'd scoffed the last stale biscuit
An' the scuttle butt was all but dry,
They reckoned it was time to risk it,
An' tuk the boats an' said 'Good-bye.''

'An' there they left the ol' barkey layin',
An' there, most like, she's layin' now,
With weeds like Noah's whiskers swayin'
Along her keel from stern to bow.'

'All her bright-work green an' spotted,
All her paint-work bleached an' bare,
All her canvas black an' rotted,
An' not a living soul to care.'

'Square the mainyard!' the silence breaking,
Like Gabriel's trumpet rang the word;
Out of the dawn the wind came, waking
The sleeping sails, so long unstirred.

The jibs were filled, they pulled like horses,
The gear ran twittering through the sheaves,
The reef points on the tautened courses
Pattered again like falling leaves.

Southward she sped, her keen bows cleaving
Steady and strong the watery ways,
Like some strange dream behind her leaving
The breathless nights, the gasping days.

And somewhere that old ship forgotten,
With all her paintwork weathered bare,
And all her canvas black and rotten,
And sea-birds fouling everywhere;

All her idle gear decaying,
Not a soul to tend her wheel,
And weeds like Noah's whiskers swaying
Fathoms long below her keel.

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Poem Submitted: Monday, August 30, 2010

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