Cicely Fox Smith

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

The Rhyme Of The Inisfail - Poem by Cicely Fox Smith

Limehouse way, the other day, as I did chance to be,
I met with a hairy sailorman was shipmates once with me,
With his short black pipe between his teeth, and his tarry dungaree.

I gripped him by the elbow then, he swung upon his heel
(And oh, that deep-sea speech to hear, that rope-hard hand to feel,
It brought once more the younger years, the look-out and the wheel,

The way of a ship in the great waters where the flying fishes are,
A cracking block, and the reef-points tapping, and a high Southern star,
And the smell of nitrates, and new lumber, and paint and Stockholm tar.)

And 'What's the news now up and down?' and 'Where's your ship?' I cried,
'Greenland Basin or Martin's Wharf?' - He turned and spat aside -
'She's dockin' far from here this night, on a late, long tide.'

'An' I came home in steam,' he said, 'I never thought to do -
In a sooty, smeary cargo-tank, with a greasy steamboat crew;
An' if you'd know the why of it, I'll tell ye plain an' true.'

'I sailed in June from Carrizal - no call to tell the tale
Of every bit of blow we had an' every Cape 'Orn gale -
In an old-time Clyde-built packet that was called the
Inisfail
.'

'One of them ships with painted ports that Gow of Glasgow had
In the great old days of the wool-clippers when I was but a lad -
An' she was one o' the best o' them; their worst was never bad.'

'All full-rigged ships in them days too, I've heard old shellbacks say;
The
Inisfail
was near the last, an' she had had her day,
When they cut the half of her sail-plan down, an' her mizzen-yards away.'

'Why, well I knew the
Inisfail
,' I said, 'and well should know;
She lay with us in Taltal once, and once in Callao,
The time I sailed in the nitrate trade, a sight o' years ago.'

'A woman with a harp she had by way of figurehead,
And shamrocks all about her dress like golden stars were spread,
A bonnier thing was never carved.' - 'That's her,' Mike sighed and said.

'Ay, well, she's gone, the
Inisfail
; her split an' broken hull,
It doesn't lie by the Seven Stones, the Brisons or the Gull,
Where many a bumpin' cargo lies, an' many a dead man's skull.'

'But fifty miles from Fastnet Light, in the wide and open sea,
Where the seagulls meet the homeward bound, close-hauled or runnin' free,
It's there I left the
Inisfail
in the place where she left me.'

'A shadow like a shark, I saw the damned torpedo glide;
Like a sunken reef it jarred her ribs - it ripped her loaded side
As the killer rips the mother whale in the red Behring tide.'

'We did not need the soundin' rod to try the depth below,
By the feel of her beneath our feet we could not help but know
She'd never fetch a port no more, an' 'twas time for us to go.'

'So we cast the long-boat's lashin's loose, we hove her over the rail
(An' we thanked our luck as we tumbled in, it wasn't blowin' a gale),
An' we stood off an' on, to see the last o' the
Inisfail
.'

'We had not got the sail off her - with all her cloths agleam
She looked as lovely as a bird, as peaceful as a dream,
As she lay with her mainyard aback an' liftin' on the stream.'

'We could see the smoke from the galley-fire in little puffs that blew,
An' the brasswork winkin' in the sun, an' the gilt vane flashin' too,
An' the shark's tail at her bowsprit end, an' a score o' things we knew.'

'We sat an' watched for the end of her - we hardly spoke or stirred;
'She'll maybe float,' said someone then - he scarce had shaped the word
When she shivered an' lurched like a meltin' berg an' sank like a wounded bird.'

'An' no one'll ever be cold or hungry, battered or sore,
Or do a job o' work aboard o' her any more,
Or lift a stave at the halliards the same as they used of yore.'

'She won't know the wind an' the stars no more, the sun an' the blue,
Never the kiss of the Trade again - never the sound o' the crew
An' they chanteyin' up the anchor in one of them ports she knew.'

'No one'll sleep in the black shadows when the moon's yellow as corn
Or sing songs in the dog-watches - or wish he was never born,
Fistin' them big courses of hers, down there off the pitch o' the Horn.'

'Nor they won't sell her or scrap her now, when workin' days are done;
She won't rust in the breaker's yard, nor lie and rot in the sun
Like an old broken sailorman whose yarn is nearly spun.'

'For she lies deep, the
Inisfail
- ay, deep she lies an' drowned,
Farther 'n ever a wave'll stir, deeper 'n a lead can sound,
Fifty miles from Fastnet Light, an' homeward bound.'


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Poem Submitted: Tuesday, August 31, 2010



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