Cicely Fox Smith

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

Lieutenant Shellback R.N.R. - Poem by Cicely Fox Smith

He has learnt the ways of the ships at sea
In most of the sorts of ships there be, -
In most of the kinds of deepsea craft,
Steam and squaresail and fore-and-aft,
A Liverpool crack and a London barque
As bluff as a barge and as old as the
Ark
,
A tramp, a tanker, a Yankee schooner,
He 's served in all of 'em later or sooner . . .

And there isn't a build, and there isn't a rig,
Be it fast or slow or little or big,
From Chapman Light to the Bay of Bengal,
But Lieutenant Shellback knows 'em all.

He has learnt the ways of the seas that roll,
Broad or narrow or deep or shoal,
Gulf and channel and bight and strait,
From the Barrier Reef to the Golden Gate;
He has learnt the ways of the winds that blow
Off palm and coral and Polar snow,
The typhoon sweeping the China seas,
And the Trades, and the stormy westerlies . . .

And there isn't a port the wide world round
From London River to Puget Sound,
From Sand Heads Light to Vallipo Bay,
But Lieutenant Shellback's passed that way.

And some he learnt from an old-style skipper
That once cracked on in a China clipper,
And a blue-nose mate like a live cyclone,
All fist and boot and muscle and bone;
To reef and furl and hand and steer
He knew full well by his sixteenth year,
To lift a chantey, and patch and darn,
And carve a model and spin a yarn . . .

And there wasn't so much those old salts knew,
'Sails' and bosun, skipper and crew,
From trimming yards to a fancy knot,
But Lieutenant Shellback learnt the lot.

But he learnt the most, when all's been told,
Where his fathers learnt the same of old,
In the sun and storm, in the wind and rain,
Twice round the Horn and home again …
He has learnt it here, he has learnt it there,
He has learnt it foul, he has learnt it fair,
Both inside out and upside down,
'Tween the Tail o' the Bank and 'Frisco town . . .

And there isn't a death that sailors dare
From Carrick Roads to the Straits of Le Mair,
Nor a kind of a risk that seamen run,
But Lieutenant Shellback's faced each one.

That's what has made him, tried and true,
Hardened and tested and proved him too, -
Born and bred to the sailor's trade,
Hemp to the core and cable-laid,
Like the nine-strand stuff that a seaman knows
Will hold and hold till the last strand goes . . .
And whether he 's fighting, or sweeping, or towing,
And whether it's hailing, or raining, or blowing,
Whether he's out on the U-boat trail,
Or saving a crew in a North Sea gale,
There isn't a job you can find him to do
But Lieutenant Shellback will carry it through.


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Poem Submitted: Monday, August 30, 2010



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