Cicely Fox Smith
First Voyage - Poem by Cicely Fox Smith
The barque lay in the Sou'-West Dock, her cargo all aboard;
Up came a young apprentice just as smart as any lord;
His cheeks were round and rosy and his buttons shone like gold,
His uniform and cap-badge were a picture to behold;
As proud as twenty Admirals, as perky as you please,
The little first voyager joined the
The mate he was a Bluenose and as hard as pickled pork;
Says he: 'Mind what I say, my lad, you've come to sea to
This hooker ain't a dancing-class nor yet a ladies' school,
When I say 'Jump' you've got to jump, for discipline's my rule;
So sharp now, spit upon your fists, unship that brassbound rig,'
And the little first voyager he cleaned out the pig.
There was fog in the Channel and a fine cold rain,
The ship crawled through it wailing like a thing that was in pain;
The crowd had got their shore heads still, they couldn't raise a stave,
And everyone on board her was as cheerful as the grave.
The decks were running wet and his bunk was chill and clammy,
And the little first voyager cried for his mammy.
Clear from the Channel chops and rolling down the Bay
The big seas from the westward came plunging cold and grey;
The Old Man kept her moving under everything she'd carry,
She stood it like a good 'un, but she rolled like Old Harry,
She rolled both rails under with a heavy cargo in her,
And the little first voyager said 'No' to his dinner.
But all things have an end in time, and 'twasn't very long
Till she picked her North-East Trade up, blowing steadily and strong,
Royals, skysails, flying jib - all were set and filling,
Every sheave-block chirruping, every backstay thrilling,
Thrilling like a fiddle-string, humming like a hive,
And the little first voyager was glad he was alive.
The barque she was a hungry ship, as hungry as can be,
You couldn't find her like for it in all that sailed the sea;
There was sawdust in the coffee, there was weevils in the bread,
If you couldn't chew the junk you carved it into ships instead;
He scoffed his whack of crackerhash, it wasn't half enough,
So the little first voyager he swiped the cabin duff.
Running down the tropics in a whole-sail breeze,
She curvetted and sidled to the dancing glancing seas,
She fretted at her bridle like a mare brought in from grass,
Till 'Easy' said the helmsman - 'easy now, my bonny lass!'
Her weight upon the tiller was a thing a man could feel
And the little first voyager he took the lee wheel.
In the high south latitudes it blew up cold and hard,
The spray froze on men's faces as the sails froze on the yard;
'Aloft and furl them topsails,' came the mate's bull-throated roar,
'And jump, ye sons of sodgers, if you never jumped afore!'
You couldn't hear the next man shout, the gale it screamed so loud,
And the little first voyager was furling with the crowd.
The skipper taught him some things and the mate he taught him more,
And Old Stiff he taught him several that he hadn't known before;
He learned a lot from bo'sun and he learned a lot from Chips,
The way to make square sennet and the way to bottle ships;
They said they'd make a seaman of him yet afore they quit,
And the little first voyager began to know a bit …
Romping up the Channel with Dungeness in sight,
'We'll burn our pay,' the foc'sle said, 'in Sailortown to-night;
We 'aven't seen old England's shores for three-'n-a-quarter years,'
Then sent their pannikins afloat and gave the tug three cheers;
She'd sailed the wide world all around to end where she began -
And the little first voyager came home a sailorman.
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