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Cicely Fox Smith

Cicely Fox Smith
1st February 1882
Happy 125th Birthday


This month sees the 125th anniversary of the birth of a remarkable lady who was probably Britain's greatest maritime poet. She recorded the dreams and aspirations of sailor's and depicted their ways of working with great accuracy yet managed to do so with wonderful poetic masterpieces such as her classic Sailortown. http://oldpoetry.com/opoem/41672

I dreamed a dream in sailor town, a foolish dream and vain,
Of ships and men departed, of old days come again -
And an old song in sailor town, an old song to sing
When shipmate meets with shipmate in the evening.

Cicely was born in rural England in the late Victorian era. She started writing and publishing poetry at an early age. Most of her early poetry fell into 2 categories, Rural and Nationalist. Her poem in praise of her home county (Lancashire) is still recited and sung today. http://oldpoetry.com/opoem/50033

Cicely was much effected by the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1897 and wrote many poems in praise of Britain and Empire such as http://oldpoetry.com/opoem/59507

Cicely left England as a young woman and travelled to Canada and America. As she was to do throughout her life she wrote about the people she met along the way. The Plains of Mexico http://oldpoetry.com/opoem/55400 tells the story of a cowboy in the North of the USA and The Traveller http://oldpoetry.com/opoem/46475 tells of an old sailor she met in Canada and looks back over his life.

This ability to "tell the tale" of people she met can be seen throughout her poetry but was put to good use in her writings for the magazine Punch where she told stories of people caught up in the first World War in a humorous way that made them accessible to everyone. For example the returning soldier in The Call http://oldpoetry.com/opoem/55844 Cicely had returned to England at the start of the conflict and quickly became a regular contributor submitting work throughout the next 40 years.

She was a contemporary of Kipling and Masefield and in many respects was their equal (some say better).

Her ability to chronicle the decline of the great age of sail will probably be her lasting legacy but she was also a novelist (both in her own right and as a collaborator with her sister Madge). She was a collector of sailor songs, a writer of travellers tales and an anthologist. In short a multi-faceted character.

       Happy Birthday

       Cicely Fox Smith