Cicely Fox Smith

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

The Old Fiddle - Poem by Cicely Fox Smith

By Chinese Charley's junk-store, by the Panama Saloon,
Where 'longshore loafers lean and spit, at morning, night, and noon, -
All among the keys without a lock, and locks without a key,
The old boss-eyed binoculars and sextants on the spree,
New Brummagem and old Bombay a-tumbling side by side,
A brown bald-headed idol and an 'Extra Master's Guide,' -
Mouldy, musty, dumb and dusty, broken on the shelf,
I thought I heard the sailor's fiddle singing to itself.

Singing in a queer old quaver, shaky, shrill, and sad,
Like an old man singing songs he knew when he was yet a lad,
Singing of a good old time that all too fast did fly,
When the world was rather younger in the years gone by.

There were scraps of dead old choruses and snatches of old tunes,
We surely knew in other worlds and under other moons;
There was singing in the half-deck, and the sky full o' stars;
And bits o' tipsy shouting out of gaudy, glary bars;
Little tunes on Chinese fiddles in a quiet street
Full of dinky Chinee houses, where the East and West do meet;
'Ranzo, Ranzo, Reuben Ranzo' - came the sound to me
Of a chantey chorus roaring with the roaring sea.

Was it only seagulls piping faint and far away,
All in rows along the freight-sheds where they sit all day, -
Mewing round the inner harbour where the tugboats lie -
Or a song we sang together in the years gone by?

There were ships that once I sailed in, sail and steam, and great and small;
And some were good and some were bad, but, Lord, I loved 'em all;
There were rusty-red old hookers going plugging round the world,
And Clyde-built China clippers with their splendid wings unfurled;
And all the winds of all the seas came singing down the street,
With its smell of beer and harbour-mud, and tread of weary feet,
Till I heard the stormy westerlies go thrashing through the sails,
And the Trades' low thunder, and the Biscay gales.

Was I waking, was I sleeping, did the wet wind go
Thrumming in the slender tops of ships I used to know,
With the deep-sea glory on them all against a sunset sky,
On the tide o' dreams a-sailing out of years gone by?

There were faces long forgotten, friends both false and true
I sailed with once and lost again, the way that sailors do;
There were folks I loved and lost with smiling faces all a-shine,
Came and walked a while beside me with a hand in mine;
Are you dead or living, comrade, near or far away?
Do you ever think of me, lad, friend upon a day?
Late or soon, lad, night or noon, lad, you and I will meet,
All the seas and years behind us, strolling down the street.

Was it but the muttering tide that by the wharf did go, -
Or the footsteps of a comrade out of long ago?
Did I hear the wave lap and the light wind sigh, -
Or the voices of my shipmates in the years gone by?

By Chinese Charley's junk-store, by the Panama Saloon,
I walked and talked with shadows there in all the glare of noon,
Where - among the keys without a lock and locks without a key,
The old boss-eyed binoculars and sextants on the spree,
New Brummagem and old Bombay a-tumbling side by side,
A brown bald-headed idol and an 'Extra Master's Guide,' -
Mouldy, musty, dumb and dusty, broken on the shelf,
I thought I heard the sailor's fiddle singing to itself.


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Poem Submitted: Tuesday, August 31, 2010



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