Cicely Fox Smith

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

Might Have Been - Poem by Cicely Fox Smith

“If I was a bloke as could paint,”
Bill said, “which I ain’t,
Lord! The pictures I’d do
Of ships runnin’ free
In the Tropics, or flyin’ like stags
Down the Forties; an’ seas, white an’ blue,
In the Trades, or like cliffs in a blow
Off the Leeuwin, or calm
After storm, an’ the dawn comin’ solemn an’ slow
Like a psalm . . . .
Ports too,
Full o’ funnels an’ flags,
I’d do,
If I was a chap as could paint,”
Said Bill, “but I ain’t.

Or if I’d the knack of the pen”
(Bill said) “like some men,
lord! The yarns
I could spin
About the queer places I’ve bin
To an’ the queer things as I’ve seen an’ I’ve done
‘Most everywhere under the sun:
a picnic we ‘ad
in a copper ore barque
out o’ Bristol,
when the skipper went mad
an’ started in pickin’ the watch
for a lark
off the yard with a pistol,
till the second mate managed to catch
him a clout
with a handspike, an that laid him out
good an’ proper, an’ ended his bother . . . .
then the time when we roasted an’ froze
both together
in a ship with her cargo alight
off Cape Stiff in the worst of his weather;
for it snowed
an’ it blowed
a fair fright
an’ the deck got
that ‘ot
we was ‘oppin’ around like a hen
on a griddle - an’ then
come a ship by as tuk us off just
in time, ‘fore she blowed up an’ bust . . . .
an’ yarns about cannibal isles,
where they sharpen their teeth up with files
‘Case they dish up for tea
some hard-cased old shellback, like me
an’ ship wrecks an’ shanghai-ing too
I could tell - and a few
On ‘em true,
If I had the trick o’ the pen,”
Bill said, “like some men.

But all as I done wi’ the brush
In my puff
Ain’t been much
Only touching up bulwarks and such,
Or slung overside in the sun
Or aloft with a bucket o’ slush,
An’ the mate comin’ sneakin’ be’ind
An’ growlin’, ‘No holidays mind,
Ye sons o’ sea-cooks!’ . . . .
An the schoolin’ I ‘ad
As a lad
Was enough
For to learn me to sign
Ships’ articles, forty-odd year
Far an’ near
‘Stead o’ makin’ my mark . . . . An’ that’s ‘ow
it is there’ll be nobody now
to read all them books,
or to see
them pictures as might ha’ been mine -
only me . . . . “


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Poem Submitted: Monday, August 30, 2010



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