Cicely Fox Smith

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

Epilogue: Cape Horn Days - Poem by Cicely Fox Smith

Thousands of years, before the ships came by,
He watched the uncounted sunsets flame and die,
Saw on the southern ocean's wind-racked grey,
Thousands of years, come up the ungreeted day,
And heard the tumult of a million tides
Fret with their ebb and flow his sea-scarred sides.
No life, no voice, but seas rising and falling,
And the seals barking, and seabirds calling,
And blowing whales, ungallied yet of man,
Travelling the salt roads, theirs since Time began:
Till, through the chartless waste of unsailed sea,
Bluff-bowed, slow-wallowing, small incredibly,
Climbing the mile-long crests, the Dutchmen came,
Marked the great headland, named him by his name . . .

They came - deep-rolling treasure fleets of Spain,
Bold raiders, flushed with plunder of the Main,
Trader, explorer, whaler, buccaneer,
Tall skysail clippers flying like hunted deer,
Staunch little copper ore barques, and Clyde fourposters
Crammed to the coamings with grain: and old West coasters
Laden with guano or nitrate, or piled with lumber -
Ships of all flags, all ports - ships without number -
They came, they passed . . .

And now draws near the day
The last Cape Horner goes the old sailor's way:
No more, no more, on the wind's pauses drifted
Shall come a sound of seamen's voices lifted
In some old thundering chorus, raising the shout
At sheets or braces, or maybe singing out
With short sharp cries, stowing the frozen canvas sail,
Like seabirds' voices crying down the gale:
No more the seaman, fighting his weary way,
Struggling to make his westing, day by day,
Peering 'neath lashes stiff with salt and rime
Through the thick weather for the thousandth time,
Shall sight afar the well-known peak at last,
Smite his cold palm, and say 'Old Cape Horn past!'

Then shall the ancient solitudes return,
Unwatched, immense, the dawns and sunsets burn:
Only the snow, the sleet, the driving rain,
The berg, the floe, the empty seas remain -
The cold and unremembering sea whose lips
Mumble the bones of men, the ribs of ships,
Beauty, and strength, and swiftness, who shall know
How watched, how wept for, years on years ago . . . ?

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Poem Submitted: Monday, August 30, 2010

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