Cicely Fox Smith

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

The Old Ships (1919) - Poem by Cicely Fox Smith

They called 'em from the breakers' yards, the shores of Dead Men's Bay,
From coaling wharves the wide world round, red-rusty where they lay,
And chipped and caulked and scoured and tarred and sent 'em on their way.

It didn't matter what they were nor what they once had been,
They cleared the decks of harbour-junk and scraped the stringers clean
And turned 'em out to try their luck with the mine and submarine . . .

With a scatter o' pitch and a plate or two,
And she's fit for the risks o' war -
Fit for to carry a freight or two,
The same as she used before;
To carry a cargo here and there,
And what she carries she don't much care,
Boxes or barrels or baulks or bales,
Coal or cotton or nuts or nails,
Pork or pepper or Spanish beans,
Mules or millet or sewing-machines,
Or a trifle o' lumber from Hastings Mill . . .
She's carried 'em all and she'll carry 'em still,
The same as she's done before.

And some were waiting for a freight, and some were laid away,
And some were liners that had broke all records in their day,
And some were common eight-knot tramps that couldn't make it pay.

And some were has-been sailing cracks of famous old renown,
Had logged their eighteen easy when they ran their easting down
With cargo, mails and passengers bound South from London Town . . .

With a handful or two o' ratline stuff,
And she's fit for to sail once more;
She's rigged and she's ready and right enough,
The same as she was before;
The same old ship on the same old road
She's always used and she's always knowed,
For there isn't a blooming wind can blow
In all the latitudes, high or low,
Nor there isn't a kind of sea that rolls,
From both the Tropics to both the Poles,
But she's knowed 'em all since she sailed Sou' Spain,
She's weathered the lot, and she'll do it again,
The same as she's done before.

And sail or steam or coasting craft, the big ships with the small,
The barges which were steamers once, the hulks that once were tall,
They wanted tonnage cruel bad, and so they fetched 'em all.

And some went out as fighting-craft and shipped a fighting crew,
But most they tramped the same old road they always used to do,
With a crowd of merchant-sailormen, as might be me or you . . .

With a lick o' paint and a bucket o' tar,
And she's fit for the seas once more,
To carry the Duster near and far,
The same as she used before;
The same old Rag on the same old round,
Bar Light vessel and Puget Sound,
Brass and Bonny and Grand Bassam,
Both the Rios and Rotterdam -
Dutch and Dagoes, niggers and Chinks,
Palms and fire-flies, spices and stinks -
Portland (Oregon), Portland (Maine),
She's been there once and she'll go there again,
The same as she's been before.

* * * * *

Their bones are strewed to every tide from Torres Strait to Tyne -
God's truth, they've paid their blooming dues to the tin-fish and the mine,
By storm or calm, by night or day, from Longships light to Line.

With a bomb or a mine or a bursting shell,
And she'll follow the seas no more,
She's fetched and carried and served you well,
The same as she's done before -
They've fetched and carried and gone their way,
As good ships should and as brave men may ...
And we'll build 'em still, and we'll breed 'em again,
The same good ships and the same good men,
The same - the same - the same as we've done before!

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Poem Submitted: Tuesday, August 31, 2010

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