Cicely Fox Smith

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

Resurrection - Poem by Cicely Fox Smith

Down at Devine's Hotel - where night and day
The noises of the harbour find their way,
The endless stir of ships coming and going,
Rattle of cranes and winches, sirens blowing,
Racket of ships in drydock, bawled commands,
And scraps of sailor speech from many lands -
While through the breath-dimmed windows of the bar
You see the fluttering houseflags, crown and star,
Chequer and cross, chevron and prince's-feather,
And funnels, streaked and stained with grime and weather,
Buff, yellow, scarlet, black - with here and there
A big sea-going schooner, stark and bare,
In from the Nova Scotian coast with lumber . . .
And now and then one of the dwindling number
Of proud squareriggers lifts there, slim and tall,
The wonder of her spars above them all,
To stir the old shellback's heart, and loose his tongue
With old wild yarns of the years when he was young . . .

Down at Devine's Hotel the talk went round
Of all the ports from Hull to Puget Sound,
Of sprees in foreign harbours, women, wine,
Cargoes, and ships, and weather foul and fine,
And - in the jumbled talk of false and true -
My heart leapt up to greet a name I knew.

It was the
they spoke of - she
That was most dear of all my ships to me -
She, first of many ships to which I gave
Strength, service, labour, love - a willing slave . . .
Macrae of Greenock built her - she was fine
Like all Macrae ships - fine and clean of line,
And tall - maybe a shade too heavy-sparred,
Skysails crossed, and a ninety-foot mainyard,
And yet with all that sail a boy could steer her . . .
There was none but the
Cutty Sark
that could come near her
Running the easting down . . . Her very name
In that drink-sodden place was like a flame
Lighting the heart with memories . . . ah, well
They knew that name in the Paragon Hotel,
When all the wool fleet crews blew in together
With many a shellback's yarn of wind and weather
From London to the Heads, and to and fro
Went speech of ships vanished long ago -

Mermerus, Sobraon, John o' Gaunt, Loch Sloy,
Salamis, Cimba, Torrens, Yallaroi
Sounding and stately names of stately clippers -
And roaring reckless mates and hard-case skippers . . .
Great ships, great days . . . oh had I wealth and leisure,
Money to burn, and fortune's smiles full measure,
Comfort and ease and fame desired of men,
I would give all to live those years again!

'She run on the rocks all standing,' some one said,
'Bass Point the place was, hard by Lizard Head . . .
Thick fog . . . that thick you couldn't see your hand . . .
The skipper'd thought himself well clear of land . . .
Lord knows what made him miss his reckoning so. . .
Mistook the Wolf for Saint Agnes . . . I dunno. . .
The ol' barky's back was broke, we couldn't save her . . .
A grand old ship . . . the old man cried to leave her . . .'

So, she is gone . . . oh, better, better so!
Whatever must come, this at least I know,
I shall not on some bleak and bitter day,
Walking the wharves, an old man bent and grey,
See her . . . befouled with spittle and with grime,
Battered with brutal cargo, stained with slime,
Paint-daubed and pitted, blistered and forlorn,
A thing for some to pity, most to scorn,
Like some lost Princess, lonely and unfriended,
Whom once a train of busy courtiers tended . . .
And knowing in that moment, all unwilling,
The measure of youth's dream and life's fulfilling,
Shed the slow difficult tears old eyes must know,
To see remembered beauty brought so low.

Better the winds and waves should work their will on her -
Better the rocks and reefs should feast their fill on her!
For still, while any lives that loved as I
That beauty which was hers in years gone by,
Still shall she sail at will, a gracious ghost,
Each well-known seaway, each familiar coast,
Still in the Trades the drowsy lookout hail
On the sea's rim her dawn-flushed spire of sail,
Still in the crowded harbours of the world
To staves unheard her viewless sails be furled,
Still in the high South latitudes shall she
Measure anew her might with wind and sea,
Fight her fight over with the seas that roll
Green and tremendous from the Antarctic Pole,
Still - like a mist through morning mists agleam -
Signal her pilot for the port of dream . . .
What's past can never perish - what has been
Lives, and lives on, through all the years between:
The years shall bring her beauty: lost youth lend her
His vanished gleam, lost dreams their morning splendour.
Unchanged, unchanging, in a world of change,
She shall endure, through all things else grow strange,
And, though her bones to rust and dust be gone,
Find in men's dreams her resurrection.

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Poem Submitted: Monday, August 30, 2010

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