James Elroy Flecker

The Old Ships

I have seen old ships like swans asleep
Beyond the village which men call Tyre,
With leaden age o'ercargoed, dipping deep
For Famagusta and the hidden sun
That rings black Cyprus with a lake of fire;
And all those ships were certainly so old
Who knows how oft with squat and noisy gun,
Questing brown slaves or Syrian oranges,
The pirate Genoese
Hell-raked them till they rolled
Blood, water, fruit and corpses up the hold.
But now through friendly seas they softly run,
Painted the mid-sea blue or shore-sea green,
Still patterned with the vine and grapes in gold.

But I have seen,
Pointing her shapely shadows from the dawn
And image tumbed on a rose-swept bay,
A drowsy ship of some yet older day;
And, wonder's breath indrawn,
Thought I - who knows - who knows - but in that same (Fished up beyond Ææa, patched up new -
Stern painted brighter blue -)
That talkative, bald-headed seaman came
(Twelve patient comrades sweating at the oar)
From Troy's doom-crimson shore,
And with great lies about his wooden horse
Set the crew laughing, and forgot his course.

It was so old a ship - who knows, who knows? -
And yet so beautiful, I watched in vain
To see the mast burst open with a rose,
And the whole deck put on its leaves again.

Poem Submitted: Wednesday, March 19, 2003

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Comments about The Old Ships by James Elroy Flecker

  • Brenda Stanton (12/3/2018 5:15:00 AM)

    Which direction would it have been towards Cyprus “for famagusta and the hidden sun

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  • Janey (1/31/2018 1:28:00 PM)

    It is good of you to publicise this great poem, but unfortunate that whoever typed it made so many errors. Look at the first two lines, for a start. They should read, ”I have see old ships SAIL links swans asleep, Beyond the village which men STILL call Tyre...” Your version kills the writer’s rhythm and alters the meaning. Would it be possible for your team to check each other’s work?

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Read poems about / on: rose, horse, sea, beautiful, green, water, fire, sun, fish, fishing, running