Cicely Fox Smith

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

The Packet Rat - Poem by Cicely Fox Smith

When I leave this Western ocean, to the South'ard I will steer
In a tall Colonial clipper, far an' far enough from here,
Down the Channel on a bowline, through the Tropics runnin' free -
When I've done wi' the Western Ocean - an' when it's done wi' me!

An' I'll run my ship in Sydney, an' then I'll work my way
To them smilin' South Seas Islands where there's sunshine all the day,
An' I'll sell my chest an' gear there, as soon's I hit the shore,
An' sling away my last discharge an' go to sea no more.

It's a pleasant time they have there - they've easy, quiet lives -
They wear no clo'es to speak on - they’ve a bunch of browny wives;
An' they're bathin' all the day long, or baskin' on the sand,
All along wi' them Kanakas as naked as your hand.

An' I'll lay there in the palm shade, an' take my ease all day,
An' look across the harbour to the shippin' in the bay,
An' watch the workin' sailormen - the bloomin' same as me,
In the workin' Western Ocean, afore I left the sea.

I'll hear 'em at the capstan bars, a-heavin' good an' hard:
I'll hear 'em tallyin' on the fall, an' sweatin' up the yard,
Hear 'em lift a halliard shanty, hear the bosun swear an' shout,
An' the thrashin' of the head-sheets as the vessel goes about.

An' if the fancy takes me - as it's like enough it may -
Just to smell the old ship smells again, an' taste the salt an' spray,
I can take a spell o' pearlin' or a tradin' trip or two
Where it's none but golden weather an' a sky that's always blue.

But I'll do no sailorizin' jobs . . . I'll walk or lay at ease,
Like a blessed packet captain just as lordly as you please,
With a steward for my table an' a boy to bring my beer,
An' a score or two Kanakas for to reef an' furl an' steer.

An' when I'm tired o' cruisin' up an' down an' here an' there,
There'll be kind Kanaka women wi' the red flowers in their hair,
All a-waitin' there to welcome me when I come in from sea,
When I've done wi' this here ocean . . . but that'll never be.

For I'd hear the parrots screamin', an' the palmtrees' drowsy tune,
But I'd want the banks in winter, an the smell of ice in June,
An' the hard-case mates a-bawlin', an the strikin' of the bell,
God! I've cursed it oft an' cruel . . . but I'd miss it all like hell!

Yes I'd miss the Western Ocean where the packets come an' go,
An' the grey gulls wheelin', callin', an' the grey skies hangin' low,
An' the blessed lights of Liverpool a-winkin' in the rain,
For to welcome us poor packet rats come back to port again.

An' if I took an' died out there, my soul'd never stay
In them sunny Southern latitudes to wait the Judgment Day,
All across the seas from England I should hear the ol' life call,
An' the bloomin' Western Ocean it'd get me after all.

I'd go flyin' like a seagull, as they say dead shellbacks do,
For to see the ships I sailed in an' the shipmates that I knew,
An' the tough old North Atlantic where the winds do always blow,
An' the Western Ocean packets all a-plyin' to an' fro.

An' I'd leave the Trades behind me, an' I'd leave the Southern Cross,
An' the mollymawks an' flyin' fish an' stately albatross,
An' I'd steer through wind and weather an' the sea fogs white as wool,
Till I sighted old Point Lynas an' the Port o' Liverpool.

Then I'd fly to some flash packet when the 'ands was bendin' sail,
An' I'd set up on the main-truck doin' out my wings an' tail,
An' I'd see the tug alongside, an' the Peter flyin' free,
An' the pilot come aboard her for to take her out to sea.

An' I'd follow down to Fastnet light, an' then I'd hang around,
There to watch 'em out to Westward an' to greet 'em homeward bound . . .
For I know it's easy talkin' - an' I know when all is said,
It's the bloomin' Western Ocean what'll get me when I'm dead!

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Poem Submitted: Tuesday, August 31, 2010

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