McFee of Aberdeen [poem by E. J. Brady]

[Editor: This poem by E. J. Brady was published in The Ways of Many Waters (1899).]


McFee of Aberdeen.

They’ve scraped her sides, and tarred her ropes, and patched her suit o’ sails;
They’ve filled her full o’ varied stock for firms in New South Wales;
She’s left her berth in London Docks, she’s left the Lizard light,
And in the rough Atlantic now her bowsprit stabs the night.
But, rough or smooth, or foul or fair, whate’er the waters be,
He’ll take her out and bring her home, or sink her, will McFee.

They’ve seen the sun go down, go down, and turn her canvas red,
And as she rides the darkened seas they’ll watch the stars o’erhead;
They’ll watch the stars that splash the skies with sparkling silver spray,
Out in the Great Unfathomed Deep away, and still away!
But when the Trades have stretched her sheets and sing among her shrouds,
Like some glad, buoyant spirit-thing she’ll leap towards the clouds;
From morn to noon, from noon to night, she’ll pitch and roll and toss,
And as the Bear goes out of sight they’ll see the Southern Cross;
Across the Line and off the land, hull-down this side the Cape,
By chart and compass and the sun her outward course he’ll shape;
And be the ocean deep and blue, or be the ocean green.
’T will not affect his wonted calm — McFee of Aberdeen!

The Glasgie skipper, towing down, will pass him on the way,
And as she dips her colours aft his crew will hip-hooray,
For in the ports where sailors meet and out across the sea
Hath passed the name and gone the fame of sturdy Jock McFee.

Though print has spread and wars have raged and rebels have been hung,
Though o’er and o’er the world has changed since Jock McFee was young,
The ways of steam he will not learn; but, Lord! to hear him speak
Of racing trips and rousing deeds when ships were built of teak,
Ere paddle-wheels or double-screws had altered all the years,
And “sailor-men were sailor-men, not sea-sick engineers!”

So build your steamboats big as towns, electric lights and all,
By wood and canvas to the end, McFee will stand or fall;
For wood and canvas, wind and tide, the books of sky and sea,
With strange salt oaths and curses make the knowledge of McFee.

The wars may come, the wars may end, and crowns be lost or won,
He rolls around the rolling world that rolls around the sun;
And men may write most wondrous books, and men may count the stars,
His aim in life is still to get all sail upon his spars;
Nor does he care how kings may fare or empires may decline,
When underneath his vessel’s keel deep lies the cable-line;
But skies of lead and seas of ink, when winds like devils roar,
Will find her reefed or taut and snug, bare poles and well off shore.

Some fingers, mate, are made for pens, but they be white and soft,
And some are made as hard as nails for clewing sail aloft,
For short’ning sail on stormy nights, when the wet wind takes your breath;
For holding fast to greasy yards when letting go means death!
So in his log-book, “out and in,” no flowing lines you’ll see,
But scrawling entries, short and curt, hard-written by McFee.
Said entries treat, in sailor terms, of how “the Betsy, barque,
Was met in” — longitude exact — “May 25, at dark;”
Or “Sighted land at 10 a.m,” with soundings such and such,
Or “Smith, A.B., from crosstrees fell,” or “Passed screw-steamer, Dutch.”

Aye, round the world, and round the world, where’er his owners will,
His cargo aft to land and leave, his for’ard hold to fill;
Across the seas and o’er the seas, and o’er the seas again,
Through night and morning, clear or cloud, through calm and wind and rain,
She’ll roll along, she’ll pitch along, she ’ll tack, and turn, and drive,
And while her spars still in her stand she’ll come to port alive.
But if her sticks and she should part, and jury-masts should fail,
’Tis said McFee would doff his shirt, and still contrive to sail.

The port is not on charts laid down, nor put on maps, I ween.
Where, in his youth, or in his prime, some time he hath not been.
He’ll talk and tell of Plymouth town, of far Alaskan bays,
Of New Orleans and Puget Sound, Colombo and its ways,
Of arrack drunks, and sam-shu sprees, of Old Kaintucky rye;
But when he comes to talk of girls, be sure that none are by:
For sailormen are sailormen — the same right all the way
From Glasgow to the Golden Gate, from Rio to Bombay;
And Neptune rules the rolling deep, but Venus reigns ashore,
So rest assured that Venus is — as Venus was of yore!

A lusty glass of smoky Scotch, and pass the cabin jar;
Here, fill yer pipe with “duty free,” and smell the smell o’tar.
Oh, hear ’em tramp the planks above — “Ey-hey!” they strain and creak —
The music of the blocks, my lads, ’tis good to hear them speak;
But, oh, the sough of swirling seas that from her glide and go,
The song of lone mid-ocean winds, and all the songs ye know!
So roll along, so race along, so tack and turn and drive,
You’ll get a taste o’ sand and weed, or else — come back alive;
You’ll take a swim some stormy night, but not for pleasure’s sake,
Or else, in ninety days from now, a deep long-beer you’ll take!
So pull away and haul away, and let the chanty rise —
’Tis watch and watch for ninety days and nights, and “damn yer eyes!”

’Tis watch and watch when on the poop your skipper takes his stand;
When far behind and low behind and out o’sight the land!
“Sou’-East by East” her course is set, and “Nor’ by East” again,
With every inch o’ canvas on, she cuts the seas amain;
Across the world and round the world and bits o’ port between,
He lives the life that sailors live, McFee of Aberdeen!

E. J. Brady, The Ways of Many Waters, Melbourne: Thomas C. Lothian, 1909 [first published 1899], pages 61-67

Editor’s notes:
the Cape = the Cape of Good Hope, a rocky promontory on the southern Atlantic coast of South Africa.

Glasgie = Glasgow (a major city in Scotland)

poop = the poop deck of a ship, being on top of the roof of the “after cabin” (stern cabin); from the French “poupe”, itself from the Latin “puppis”, both meaning stern, i.e. the rear of a ship (“stern” was Middle English for “rudder”, from the Old English stīeran, meaning “to steer”)

ween = believe, suppose, think

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