Cicely Fox Smith
Words Of Wisdom - Poem by Cicely Fox Smith
'Come all you young seamen, take heed now to me,
A hard case old sailorman bred to the sea,
As had sailed the seas over afore you was born,
And learned 'em by heart from the Hook to the Horn . . .
Don't hold by the ratlines when going aloft
(Which I've told you afore, but I can't tell you too oft),
Or you'll strike one that's rotten as sure as you live,
And it's too late to learn when you've once felt it give;
If you don't hit the bulwarks, you'll sure hit the sea -
For them rotten ratlines - they're the devil,' says he.
'Now if you should see, as you like enough may,
When tramping the docks for a ship some fine day,
A spanking full-rigger just ready for sea,
And think she looks all that a hooker should be . . .
Take heed you don't ship with a skipper that drinks -
You'd better by half play at fan-tan with Chinks!
For that stands for nothing but muddle and mess -
It may mean much more and it can't mean much less -
What with wrangling and jangling to drive a man daft,
And rank bad dis- cip -line both forrard and aft,
A ship that's ill-found and a crew out of hand,
It's a touch-and-go chance she may never reach land,
But sink in the gale or broach in a sea,
For them drunken skippers - they're the devil,' says he.
'And if you go further and pause to admire
A ship that's as neat as your heart could desire,
As smart as a frigate aloft and alow,
Her brasswork like gold and her planking like snow . . .
Look round for the mate by whose twang it is plain
That his home port is somewhere round Boston or Maine,
With a jaw that's the cut of a square block of wood,
And … beat it, my son, while the going is good!
It's scouring and scraping from morning till night
To keep that brass shiny and keep them decks white,
And belaying-pin soup both for dinner and tea,
For them smart down-easters - they're the devil,' says he.
'But if by good fortune you chance for to get
A ship that ain't hungry, or wicked, or wet,
That answers her hellum both a-weather and lee,
Sails well on a bowline, and well running free . . .
A skipper that's neither a fool nor a brute,
And mates not too free with the toe of their boot . . .
A 'Sails' and a bosun not new to the trade,
And a 'Slush' with a notion how vittles is made,
And a crowd that ain't half of 'em Dagoes or Dutch.
Or Mexican greasers, or niggers, or such,
You stick to her close as you would your wife -
She's the sort that you only find once in your life -
And ships is like women - you take it from me
That if they are bad 'uns, they're the devil,' says he.
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