Cicely Fox Smith
Yarns - Poem by Cicely Fox Smith
When the docks are all deserted, and the derricks all are still,
And the wind across the anchorage comes singing sad and shrill,
And the lighted lanthorns gleaming where the ships at anchor ride
Cast their quivering long reflections down the ripple of the tide,
Then the ships they start a-yarning, just the same as sailors do,
In a hundred docks and harbours from Port Talbot to Chefoo -
Just the same as deep-sea sailormen a-meeting up and down
In the bars and boarding-houses and the streets of sailortown.
Just the same old sort of ship-talk sailors always like to hear -
Just the same old harbour gossip gathered in both far and near -
In the same salt-water lingo sailors use the wide world round
From the shores of London River to the wharves of Puget Sound, -
With a gruff and knowing chuckle at a spicy yarn or so,
And a sigh for some old shipmate gone the way that all men go,
And there's little need for wonder at a grumble and then,
For the ships must have their growl out, just the same as sailormen.
And they yarn along together just as jolly as you please,
Lordly liner, dingy freighter rusty-red from all the seas,
Of their cargoes and their charters and their harbours east and west,
And the coal-hulk at her moorings she is yarning with the best -
Telling all the same tales over many and many a time she's told,
In a voice that's something creaky now, because she's got so old,
Like some old broken sailorman when drink has loosed his tongue,
And his ancient heart keeps turning to the days when he was young.
Is it but the chuckling mutter of the tide along the buoys,
But the creak of straining cables, but the night-wind's mournful noise,
Sighing with a rising murmur in among the ropes and spars,
Setting every shroud and backstay singing chanties to the stars?
No, the ships they all are yarning, just the same as sailors do,
Just the same as deep sea sailors from Port Talbot to Chefoo,
Yarning through the hours of darkness till the day-light comes again . . .
But oh! the things they speak of, no one knows but sailormen.
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