Cicely Fox Smith

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

The Rhyme Of The Rio Grande - Poem by Cicely Fox Smith

In Salthouse Dock as I did pass one day not long ago,
I chanced to meet a sailorman that once I used to know;
His eye it had a roving gleam, his step was light and gay,
He looked like one just in from sea to blow a nine month's pay.
And as he passed athwart my hawse he hailed me long and loud:
'Oh, find me a full saloon where I may stand the crowd:
I'm out to rouse the town this night, as any man may be
That's just come off a salvage job, my lad, the same as me' -

'Bringin' home the
Rio Grande
, her as used to be

Crack o' Moore
, Mackellar's line, back in ninety-three, -
First of all the 'Frisco fleet home in ninety-eight,
Ninety days to Carrick Roads from the Golden Gate;
Thirty shellbacks used to have all their work to do
Haulin' them big yards of hers, heavin' of her to
Down off Dago Ramierez, where the big winds blow,
Bringin' home the
Rio Grande
twenty years ago!'

'We picked her up one morning, homeward bound from Portland, Maine,
In a nine-knot gruntin' cargo tramp by name the
Crown o' Spain
The day was breakin' cold and dark and dirty as could be,
It was blowing up for weather, as we couldn't help but see.
Her crew was gone the Lord knows where - and Fritz had left her too,
He must have took a scare and left afore his job was through;
We tried to pass a hawser, but it wasn't no kind o' good,
So we put a salvage crew aboard, to save her if we could' -

'Bringin' home the
Rio Grande
and her freight as well,
Half-a-score o' steamboatmen cursin' her like hell,
Floundering in the flooded waist, scramblin' for a hold,
Hanging on with teeth and toes, dippin' when she rolled;
Ginger Dan the donkyman, Joe the doctor's mate,
Loafers off the water-front, greasers from the Plate,
That's the sort of crowd we had to reef and steer and haul -
Bringin' home the
Rio Grande
, ship and freight and all.'

'Our mate had served his time in sail, he was a bully boy,
It'd wake a corpse to hear him hail 'Foretopsail yard ahoy!'
He knew the way of squaresail and he knew the way to swear,
He'd got the habit of it here and there and everywhere;
He'd some samples from the Baltic and some more from Mozambique,
Chinook and Chink and double-Dutch and Mexican and Greek,
He'd a word or two in Russian, but he learned the best he'd got
Off a pious preachin' skipper - and he had to use the lot' -

'Bringin' home the
Rio Grande
in a seven days' gale,
Seven days and seven nights, the same as Jonah's whale,
Standard compass gone to bits, steering all adrift,
Courses split and mainmast sprung, cargo on the shift,
Not a chart in all the ship left to steer her by -
Not a glimpse of star or sun in the bloomin' sky . . .
Two men at the jury wheel, kickin' like a mule,
Bringin' home the
Rio Grande
up to Liverpool.'

'The seventh day off South Stack Light the sun began to shine;
Up came an Admiralty tug and offered us a line;
The mate he took the megaphone and leaned across the rail,
And this, or something like it, was the answer to their hail:
He'd take it very kindly if they'd tell us where we were,
And he hoped the war was going well, he'd got a brother there,
And he thought about their offer, and he thanked them kindly too,
But since we'd brought her up so far, by God, we'd see it through' -

'Bringin' home the
Rio Grande
- and we done it too!
Courses split and mainmast sprung - half-a-watch for crew -
'Bringin' home the
Rio Grande
and her freight as well -
Half-a-score of steamboatmen cursing her like hell -
Her as led the grain fleet home back in ninety-eight -
Ninety days to Carrick Roads from the Golden Gate -
Half-a-score of steamboatmen to reef and steer and haul -
Bringin' home the
Rio Grande
- ship and freight and all!'

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Poem Submitted: Tuesday, August 31, 2010

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