Cicely Fox Smith

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

They Built Ships - Poem by Cicely Fox Smith

Nigh the mouldering staithe
Where the lads came to bathe,
And the tidal river as it passes
Licks with salty lips
The wiry grasses
Where the cattle graze,
There, in the old days,
They built ships . . .

Staunch little ships they built here,
Craft with coastwise rigs,
Schooners, ketches, brigs,
That sailed many a year
With their homely freights -
Cornish clay, granite, Bethesda slates -
To and fro between Fowey and Falmouth, Runcorn and Wales,
Dipping both rails under in the Channel gales,
Beating up to wind'ard with the sunlight on their sails . . .

There were bustle and noise then,
Voices of boys and men,
And the clean shipyard smells
Of sawdust, paint and tar;
You could hear from far
Late and soon
The anvil's clang,
And the caulkers' mallets as they rang
All in time and tune,
Like a peal of bells . . .

But now it's ended and done;
Thirty years a gone
The last ship left the ways,
With her bunting flying,
And the gulls crying
All around her, and the folks cheering from the riverside
To see her take her tide . . .
And by the rotting staithe,
Where the lads came to bathe,
No stir of life is seen
And over the old slips
Where they used to build ships
The grass grows green . . .

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Poem Submitted: Tuesday, August 31, 2010

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