The Merchantmen


 King Solomon drew merchantmen,
 Because of his desire
 For peacocks, apes, and ivory,
 From Tarshish unto Tyre,
 With cedars out of Lebanon
 Which Hiram rafted down;
 But we be only sailormen
 That use in London town.

 Coastwise, cross-seas, round the world and back again,
 Where the flaw shall head us or the full Trade suits,
 Plain-sail, storm-sail, lay your board and tack again,
 And that's the way we'll pay Paddy Doyle for his boots!

 We bring no store of ingots,
 Of spice or precious stones,
 But what we have we gathered
 With sweat and aching bones:
 In flame beneath the Tropics,
 In frost upon the floe,
 And jeopardy of every wind
 That does between them go.

 And some we got by purchase,
 And some we had by trade,
 And some we found by courtesy
 Of pike and carronade,
 At midnight, 'mid-sea meetings,
 For charity to keep,
 And light the rolling homeward-bound
 That rowed a foot too deep!

 By sport of bitter weather
 We're walty, strained, and scarred
 From the kentledge on the kelson
 To the slings upon the yard.
 Six oceans had their will of us
 To carry all away,
 Our galley's in the Baltic,
 And our boom's in Mossel Bay.

 We've floundered off the Texel,
 Awash with sodden deals,
 We've slipped from Valparaiso
 With the Norther at our heels:
 We've ratched beyond the Crossets
 That tusk the Southern Pole,
 And dipped our gunnels under
 To the dread Agulhas roll.

 Beyond all outer charting
 We sailed where none have sailed,
 And saw the land-lights burning
 On islands none have hailed;
 Our hair stood up for wonder,
 But, when the night was done,
 There danced the deep to windward
 Blue-empty 'neath the sun!

 Strange consorts rode beside us
 And brought us evil luck;
 The witch-fire climbed our channels,
 And flared on vane and truck,
 Till, through the red tornado,
 That lashed us nigh to blind,
 We saw The Dutchman plunging,
 Full canvas, head to wind!

 We've heard the Midnight Leadsman
 That calls the black deep down,
 Ay, thrice we've heard The Swimmer,
 The Thing that may not drown.
 On frozen bunt and gasket
 The sleet-cloud drave her hosts,
 When, manned by more than signed with us,
 We passed the Isle of Ghosts! 

 And north, amid the hummocks,
 A biscuit-toss below,
 We met the silent shallop
 That frighted whalers know;
 For, down a cruel ice-lane,
 That opened as he sped,
 We saw dead Hendrick Hudson
 Steer, North by West, his dead.
 So dealt God's waters with us
 Beneath the roaring skies,
 So walked His signs and marvels
 All naked to our eyes:
 But we were heading homeward
 With trade to lose or make,
 Good Lord, they slipped behind us
 In the tailing of our wake!

 Let go, let go the anchors;
 Now shamed at heart are we
 To bring so poor a cargo home
 That had for gift the sea!
 Let go the great bow-anchor,
 Ah, fools were we and blind,
 The worst we stored with utter toil,
 The best we left behind!

 Coastwise, cross-seas, round the world and back again,
 Whither flaw shall fail us or the Trades drive down:
 Plain-sail, storm-sail, lay your board and tack again,
 And all to bring a cargo up to London Town!


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