By John Masefield
I CANNOT tell their wonder nor make known
Magic that once thrilled through me to the bone;
But all men praise some beauty, tell some tale,
Vent a high mood which makes the rest seem pale,
Pour their heart's blood to flourish one green leaf,
Follow some Helen for her gift of grief,
And fail in what they mean, whate'er they do:
You should have seen, man cannot tell to you
The beauty of the ships of that my city.
That beauty now is spoiled by the sea's pity;
For one may haunt the pier a score of times,
Hearing St. Nicholas bells ring out the chimes,
Yet never see those proud ones swaying home
With mainyards backed and bows a cream of foam,
Those bows so lovely-curving, cut so fine,
Those coulters of the many-bubbled brine,
As once, long since, when all the docks were filled
With that sea-beauty man has ceased to build.
Yet, though their splendor may have ceased to be
Each played her sovereign part in making me;
Now I return my thanks with heart and lips
For the great queenliness of all those ships.
And first the first bright memory, still so clear,
An autumn evening in a golden year,
When in the last lit moments before dark
The Chepica, a steel-gray lovely barque,
Came to an anchor near us on the flood,
Her trucks aloft in sun-glow red as blood.
Then come so many ships that I could fill
Three docks with their fair hulls remembered still,
Each with her special memory's special grace,
Riding the sea, making the waves give place
To delicate high beauty; man's best strength,
Noble in every line in all their length.
Ailsa, Genista, ships, with long jibbooms,
The Wanderer with great beauty and strange dooms,
Liverpool (mightiest then) superb, sublime,
The California huge, as slow as time.
The Copley swift, the perfect J. T. North,
The loveliest barque my city has sent forth,
Dainty John Lockell well remembered yet,
The splendid Argus with her skysail set,
Stalwart Drumcliff, white-blocked, majestic Sierras,
Divine bright ships, the water's standard-bearers;
Melpomene, Euphrosyne, and their sweet
Sea-troubling sisters of the Fernie fleet;
Corunna (in whom my friend died) and the old
Long since loved Esmeralda long since sold.
Centurion passed in Rio, Glaucus spoken,
Aladdin burnt, the Bidston water-broken,
Yola, in whom my friend sailed, Dawpool trim,
Fierce-bowed Egeria plunging to the swim,
Stanmore wide-sterned, sweet Cupica, tall Bard,
Queen in all harbors with her moon-sail yard.
Though I tell many, there must still be others,
McVickar Marshall's ships and Fernie Brothers',
Lochs, Counties, Shires, Drums, the countless lines
Whose house-flags all were once familiar signs
At high main-trucks on Mersey's windy ways
When sunlight made the wind-white water blaze.
Their names bring back old mornings, when the docks
Shone with their house-flags and their painted blocks,
Their raking masts below the Custom House
And all the marvellous beauty of their bows.
Familiar steamers, too, majestic steamers,
Shearing Atlantic roller-tops to streamers,
Umbria, Etruria, noble, still at sea,
The grandest, then, that man had brought to be.
Majestic, City of Paris, City of Rome,
Forever jealous racers, out and home.
The Alfred Holt's blue smoke-stacks down the stream,
The fair Loanda with her bows a-cream.
Booth liners, Anchor liners, Red Star liners,
The marks and styles of countless ship-designers,
The Magdalena, Puno, Potosi,
Lost Cotopaxi, all well known to me.
These splendid ships, each with her grace, her glory,
Her memory of old song or comrade's story,
Still in my mind the image of life's need,
Beauty in hardest action, beauty indeed.
"They built great ships and sailed them," sounds most brave,
Whatever arts we have or fail to have.
I touch my country's mind, I come to grips
With half her purpose, thinking of these ships:
That art untouched by softness, all that line
Drawn ringing hard to stand the test of brine;
That nobleness and grandeur, all that beauty
Born of a manly life and bitter duty;
That splendor of fine bows which yet could stand
The shock of rollers never checked by land; 90
That art of masts, sail-crowded, fit to break,
Yet stayed to strength and backstayed into rake;
The life demanded by that art, the keen
Eye-puckered, hard-case seamen, silent, lean.
They are grander things than all the art of towns;
Their tests are tempests and the sea that drowns.
They are my country's line, her great art done
By strong brains laboring on the thought unwon.
They mark our passage as a race of men--
Earth will not see such ships as those again.
Reprinted with permission of The Society of Authors as the Literary Representative of the Estate of John Masefield.
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