Frankie’s Trade


(notes by Philip Holberton)


Published with “Simple Simon” in Rewards and Fairies (1910).

The poem

This poem, with its refrains, (especially A-hay O! To me O!) is in the form of a chantey, a song to help sailors pulling on ropes or pushing on capstans.

[Verse 1]

[line 1] Old Horn: Cape Horn. On his voyage around the world in 1577-80, Drake entered the Pacific through the Straits of Magellan, but was then driven south by a gale until he found shelter in the lee of an island, with no land visible to the south. Although the description fits Cape Horn, “The Horn” was actually named by a Dutchman in 1616.

[Line 4] a three-reef mains’le: the minimum amount of sail: only the mainsail is still set and its area has been reduced by reefing (tying) three sections of it up to the yard. Even so, only a master seaman would carry that much canvas in a gale – hence Old Horn’s question. Most ships would take in all sail and be under bare poles.

[Verse 2]

[Line 3] all plain canvas: with every possible sail set for speed.

[Verse 3]

[Line 3] an open coaster: a small undecked boat for coastal trade.

[Line 4] the Sands: “they Dutch sands where he [Drake] was master.” See “Simple Simon”, page 297 line 12 (and in several other places in the story).

[Verse 5]

[Line 2] I made him pull and I made him haul: In a famous speech to all members of his expedition, Drake said “I must have the gentleman to haul and draw with the mariner, and the mariner with the gentleman.”

[Line 3] trick: the time allotted to a sailor on duty at the helm.

[Verse 7]

[Line 2] Mardyk Fort: guarded the main access to Dunkirk

[Verse 8]

[Line 3 ] he clapped the boot on it later:  possibly the iron boot used as an instrument of torture: a metaphor for the pain caused to the Spanish by Drake’s raids on their colonies, his “singeing the King of Spain’s beard” at Cadiz, and his part in defeating the Armada. (Other suggestions are welcome.)

[Verse 11]

[Line 2] Bruges and Niewport: cities in what is now Belgium. Niewport is on the same stretch of coast as Dunkirk. Bruges is inland.


©Philip Holberton 2020 All rights reserved