Cicely Fox Smith

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

Merchant Men (1904) - Poem by Cicely Fox Smith

Ere the word of Kings went over on the pathway of the rover,
To the lands of hope and promise at the breaking of the day
Came a foreword of fulfilling thro' the untold future thrilling, -
Came a people born to conquest to the clearing of the way.
O the race of gallant men!
(Yet they were but merchant men!)
O the hearts, the hearts of heroes 'neath the name of merchant men!

Yea, they followed lightly after with a ready jest and laughter,
And their hearts went forth exulting, hopeful, heedless, one to ten, -
Risk they chose and bitter faring, - O the goodly deeds for daring
When they paved the ways before us in the name of merchant men!

Frontier forts on hills they knew not where the flag of England blew not,
Lonely laager on the upland, lonely watches in the night,
Friendless plains and bleak hills swelling, these they chose to be their dwelling
With the stars of Heaven above them and the camp fires burning bright.
O the lives of merchant men!
O the gallant lives of men!
Life and death in grip together on the ways of merchant men.

Yea, they knew the midnight leaguer and the dark hosts pressing eager,
And the slowly-failing powder - was your gold so mighty then?
And the lone grave in the far land, where was never stone or garland,
They who walked with Death undreading in the ways of merchant men.

O they made the road to follow, - leveled hill and raised the hollow!
(O the bones that rot and whiten in the forest and the fen!)
Wilson by the Shangani River, Clive at Plassey, names for ever,
Fought and conquered, fought and perished in the name of merchant men.
O the wars of merchant men, -
Little wars of merchant men!
O the freedom and the fighting and the lives of merchant men!

Yea, they knew the clash and glory of the battlefields of story:
Swarthy hordes of Indian Rajahs and the impis of Lo Ben,
Stalwart Sikh and fierce Mahratta saw they tremble, melt and scatter,
When they broke the hosts of princes in the name of merchant men.

Yea! Men grudge their dole of glory, - yet they set their seal on story
From the Ganges and the Goomtee to the shores of Hudson's Bay.
Leave, ah, leave the free sky o'er them and the open road before them,
Leave them room, ay, room to live in and the brave old rover's way.
O the lives, the lives of men!
O the gallant lives of men!
When the ruled and held and conquered in the name of merchant men!

Yea, O kin who half forget them and the perils that beset them,
And the hardships and their warfare in the lands beyond your ken,
Laugh! Their memory crumbles never! Scorn! Their work endures for ever -
Theirs who led the van of Empire in the name of merchant men!


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Poem Submitted: Monday, August 30, 2010



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