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 shipped from Valparaiso
    With the Norther at our heels:
We're 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 marrvels
    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 !