Cicely Fox Smith Poems >>
A Ship In A Bottle

In a sailormen's restaurant Rotherhithe way,
Where the din of the docksides is loud all the day,
And the breezes come bringing off basin and pond
And all the piled acres of lumber beyond,
From the Oregon ranges the tang of the pine
And the breath of the Baltic as bracing as wine …
Among the stale odours of hot food and cold,
In a fly-spotted window I there did behold
A ship in a bottle some sailor had made
In watches below, swinging South with the Trade,
When the fellows were patching old dungaree suits,
Or mending up oilskins and leaky sea-boots,
Or whittling a model, or painting a chest,
Or smoking and yarning and watching the rest.

In fancy I saw him — all weathered and browned,
Deep crows'-feet and wrinkles his eyelids around,
A pipe in the teeth that seemed little the worse
For Liverpool pantiles and stringy salt horse …
The hairy forearm with its gaudy tattoo
Of a bold-looking female in scarlet and blue …
The fingers all roughened and toughened and scarred,
With hauling and hoisting so calloused and hard,
So crooked and stiff you would wonder that still
They could handle with cunning and fashion with skill
The tiny full-rigger predestined to ride
To its cable of thread on its green-painted tide,
In its wine-bottle world while the old world went on,
And the sailor who made it was long ago gone.

And still as he worked at the toy on his knee
He would spin his old yarns of the ships and the sea,
Thermopylae, Lightning, Lothair and  Red Jacket,
And many another such famous old packet &mdash

And many a tough bucko and daredevil skipper
In Liverpool blood-boat and Colonies clipper —
The sail that they carried aboard the Black Ball,
Their skysails and stunsails and ringtail and all,
And storms that they weathered, and races they won,
And records they broke in the days that are done.

Or else he would sing you some droning old song,
Some old sailor's ditty both mournful and long,
With queer little curleycues, twiddles and quavers,
Of smugglers and privateers, pirates and slavers,
'The Brave Female Smuggler', the 'packet of fame'
That sails from New York, an' the "Dreadnought's her name",
And "All on the coast of the High Barbaree",
And "The flash girls of London were the downfall of he".

In fancy I listened, in fancy could hear
The thrum of the shrouds and the creak of the gear,
The patter of reef-points on tops'ls a-shiver,
The song of the jibs when they tauten and quiver,
The cry of the frigate-bird following after,
The bow-wave that broke with a gurgle like laughter:
And I looked on my youth with its pleasure and pain,
And the shipmate I loved was beside me again …
In a ship in a bottle a-sailing away
In the flying-fish weather through rainbows of spray,
Over oceans of wonder by headlands of gleam
To the harbours of youth on the wind of a dream!