Thursday, February 02, 2012

Cargoes by John Masefield

Quinquireme of Nineveh from distant Ophir,
Rowing home to haven in sunny Palestine,
With a cargo of ivory,
And apes and peacocks,
Sandalwood, cedarwood, and sweet white wine.

Stately Spanish galleon coming from the Isthmus,
Dipping through the Tropics by the palm-green shores,
With a cargo of diamonds,
Emeralds, amythysts,
Topazes, and cinnamon, and gold moidores.

Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack,
Butting through the Channel in the mad March days,
With a cargo of Tyne coal,
Road-rails, pig-lead,
Firewood, iron-ware, and cheap tin trays.


Tillerman said...

I guess a lot of people read this poem, and its contrast between the first two romantic verses and the last gritty one, as a negative comment on modern commercial life.

But I always read it as celebrating the toughness and persistence of the British. I've always been proud to think of myself as a "dirty British coaster... butting through the Channel."

JP said...

Indeed - and the interest in the SS Robin is because of the importance of that type of boat to Britain and our history.

O Docker said...

I guess it's an easy thing to forget, for those of us who don't live on islands, how much that simple accident of geography has shaped Britain's history, culture, and sense of national identity.

bowsprite said...

I wonder what Masefield would do now, with our plastic lawn chairs, electronics, recycleables, cheap hair dryers, imported cars, wastes…

Chris Partridge said...

Ironically, nowadays the dirty British coaster is every bit as remote, romantic and extinct as quinquiremes and galleons.

Chris Partridge said...

Dirty Volvo artic with a mud-caked windscreen,
Driving up the M2 through the rain and sleet,
With a cargo of lawn chairs,
iPads, TVs,
Hair dryers, toy cars and polyester sheets.

JP said...

Good ones.

Maybe should try to think of the forth verse all about a modern container ship.

Over to you.......

Chris Partridge said...

OK here you are:
Gargantuan container ship of Panama
Bound from Yokohama through the wild South Seas,
With a cargo of motor cars,
Hatchbacks, pickups,
Sports cars, white vans and SUVs.

JP said...


I was trying to think of one but poetry's not my strong point