The Wool Fleet [poem by E. J. Brady]

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


The Wool Fleet.

We have other tales for telling, we have other songs to sing,
Who have looped the planet’s waters in a plait of tarry string;
With a tarry rope a-tether, with the sun, the wind, and weather,
From the muddy banks o’ Yarra to the ice-bound Arctic ring.

We have ladled up the oceans in the hollow of a spoon;
We have hailed the iceberg sailing ’neath a grey midwinter moon;
We have been to greet the devil when the water lifted level
And the whirring line made answer to the whiz of the harpoon.

You have seen the gas-lamps glisten on the water where they lie,
With the southern stars far showing through their rigging in the sky.
You have heard the clear bells clanging while the rowdy winch is banging
To the squeaking screw’s caresses, to the sobbing of the presses,
When it’s “Bully in Our Alley,” and “We’ll meet You By-and-By.”

Have you heard the night wind talking to the Wool Fleet ere the rose
From the blushing face of Morning, like a dream of lovers, goes?
Have you fevered for the lotion of its ever-potent potion,
For the calm of open ocean and the freest breath that blows?

You must see them at the sun-up, with their redd’ning sails aglow,
When the gangs begin to muster and the laden lighters go,
When the night clouds wheel and scatter and their crews commence to chatter
In the polygot palaver of a dozen tongues or so.

They have rallied to the gorging. At the uproar of the feast,
They are swooping South to swallow eighty thousand bales at least,
With an appetite unsated, with a hunger unabated,
For a greedy London market and the markets further East.

Oh, the ragged ewes are bleating on the downs among their lambs,
Where a squatter-man hath mated them with Tassie’s choicest rams,
And our shearer men are riding, for there’s little time for biding
When the noisy North starts knocking and the silken East salaams.

So it’s “Haul upon the bowl’n!” and another clipper in,
With a salt-dried score of sinners who are wasting for their sin;
While the crowd that gathers round her turns to cheer the outward-bounder
That with locks and fleeces freighted, with our staple product weighted,
Slips her slackened hawser gaily in the ramping, rousing din.

Have you hearkened to the Night-Wind that hath drifted over-sea,
Where the dead men lie a-rocking in their deep graves restlessly?
In their weighted hammocks rotten, on the outer ways forgotten,
On the unremembered inner ways these countless dead men be.

And the Night-Wind tells his story of the ghostly ships that sail
By their ghostly helmsmen guided till the dawn-light cometh pale;
Of the sallow arms that beckon, of that drowned Vanderdecken
Who for ancient sin unshriven, still by storm and thunder driven,
In the teeth of tempests horrid sets his course against the gale!

But a sweeter tale for telling hath the Night-Wind as he rides
Of the flaking foam fast-flying from a roving trader’s sides,
Of the sunlit waters swelling where the sea-man makes his dwelling
’Twixt the parting of the oceans and the meeting of the tides.

There’s a drowsy Dutchman over, who will sing his “Wacht am Rhein
When this Frenchman’s finished shouting for “revanche” and further wine:
There’s a dainty English clipper, with a dainty, dandy skipper
Who was educated early at Newcastle-on-the-Tyne.

There’s a squat, big-bellied Belgian with a forehold like a tank;
There’s a Swedish barque ’longside him and the other side a Yank;
There’s an old New Bedford whaler rubbing noses with a sailer
Of the latest modern fashion and the highest modern rank.

There’s a jaunty White Star liner, and her decks are scrubbed and clean,
And her tall white spars are spotless, and her hull is painted green.
Don’t you smell the smoky stingo? Ech! ye’ll ken the Gaelic lingo
Of the porridge-eating person who was shipped in Aberdeen.

There’s a whiff of foreign cooking and a stronger stink of tar,
And the rattle of the chop-sticks and “’e dunno where ’e are.”
Oh, it’s “Crachious! Vot’s der madder?” Oh, it’s ankles down the ladder,
And a woman laughing softly where the cabin door’s ajar.

There’s a pretty girl a-flirting with the second engineer;
There’s a virgin shy declining skipper Yonson’s pottled peer;
And you’ll find them gaily tripping in their gewgaws to the shipping,
“Jah, I lofe you!” “Oui, you lof me! No spik Englees moch, my dear.”

So you’ll grease the whole caboodle, and the piston-rods you’ll shine;
So you’ll paint em aft and forrard, though they’ll blister on the Line;
Oh, you’ll clean the whole caboodle to the tune of “Yankee Doodle,”
But you’ll sing another ditty at the Horn, oh, skipper mine!

Ye have answered to the message that they flashed along the ooze:
Now the ink it drieth quickly, and there’s little time to lose;
’T is the Philistines’ to barter. Take your manifest and charter,
Hence, ye trouser-hitching legion, we have business with the Jews!

Let the Four Winds rise and whisper as ye carry over sea —
Let them speak of drowned dead men, it hath naught to do with ye.
Be it yours to freight our plunder o’er their grey bones rocking under:
Be it yours to freight our plunder o’er the plunder of the sea.

There’s another song for singing, there’s another tale to tell,
When the rim of Heaven toucheth on the upward rim of Hell:
When they’ve spliced the stars together with a tarry rope a-tether —
When the dead men all foregather with the sun and wind and weather,
Who have tied the seas together, who have tied them very well.

E. J. Brady, The Ways of Many Waters, Melbourne: Thomas C. Lothian, 1909 [first published 1899], pages 79-85

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