Cicely Fox Smith

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

Sailor's Picture Model - Poem by Cicely Fox Smith

Yonder she sails on her paper sea -
Masts just a trifle too tall, maybe -
Chain-plates and whiskers, all, in short,
That proves her one of the grand old sort -
Frame that must surely have graced some day
Christian Martyr
Stag at Bay

The little model (none knows her name,
Whose flag she flew, from what yard she came)
Some shellback fashioned with calloused, twisted
Fingers that many a sail had fisted,
Giving to make her such scanty ease
As sailors snatched from the winds and seas
In long bright hours when the hooker snored
Down the sunlit Trade with her tacks aboard.

Was she wet or hungry, speedy or slow,
Whose likeness this was in the long ago?
Was she tight or leaky, happy or hard,
Lucky, I wonder, or evil-starred?
What other cargoes, captains, crews?
What trade did she sail in, what harbours use?
Did time or fire or the chance of weather
Make an end of story and ship together?

What of her maker? Did his bones
Find rest at the last with Davy Jones?
Or did he live till he came to be
A broken seaman, done with the sea,
Who sometimes, gazing with rheumy eyes
On the model he made under Tropic skies,
Saw ships long vanished and shipmates dead,
All that was life in the long years sped,
The grace, the glory, the pride again
God lends for a little to ships and men?

It may be. We know not. This alone,
This and no more of them both is known -
That someone once, in a ship forgotten,
Whose name is lost and whose bones are rotten,
Saw, knew and laboured with halting skill
(Yet, since he loved her, not wholly ill)
To hold a moment the fleeting dream,
The flying beauty, the foam-bow gleam,
Sculptor and painter, craftsman, sage,
Follow and find not, age by age . . .

Tall and lovely beyond all telling,
Her dimpled sails in the sunlight swelling,
Her bow-wave piling like drifted snow . . .
Some shellback fashioned her, long ago.

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Poem Submitted: Monday, August 30, 2010

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