A Song of Ships [poem by Grant Hervey]

[Editor: This poem by Grant Hervey was published in Australians Yet and Other Verses, 1913.]

A Song of Ships

Where the Arctic fulmar flies —
Where the berg-heads beat the skies,
And the sealer, steering nor’ward past the ice-pack and the floe,
Sees the mystic Northern Lights
Streaming down the Polar nights —
There the ships of Man the Master on his errands come and go !
Where the deep Sargasso drifts,
Where the tide head sinks and lifts —
There his steamers fling their smoke-wreaths to the scintillating stars ;
Slip their cables from the piers,
Driving down the salty years —
Driving forth around the planet under steam or towering spars !
Dragging nations at their heel,
Floating wagons built of steel —
Hauling men and manufactures round the palpitating earth ;
See ! They shuttle to and fro —
For the Master wills it so,
And his orders feed the Peoples in their day of bitter dearth !
Tramp-ships and battleships,
Wheat-tanks and cattleships —
Craft from all the Harbour-mouths ’twixt Trondjhem and the Horn ;
These the Master ordereth —
Cliff and cape he bordereth,
And he hangs his steam and cinders on the altars of the Morn !

Timber-ships from Puget Sound,
Stately mailers Plymouth-bound —
Ships with wool and merchandise, and all that Man hath made ;
Steaming south and west and north,
From the Bluff to Firth of Forth —
Bow down, ye silly draper-folk, and hail the gods of Trade !
Yea, hail the engineers,
And the Master-hand that steers —
Hosanna to the Captains and the Builders and the Crews ;
All hail unto the steel !
To the kelson and the keel,
And hail, ye mighty cylinders that drive the roaring screws !
For the cross-head and the crank,
They are greater than the Bank —

Yea, greater far than emperor and king and crown and queen,
And the man who shovels coal —
He is better, on the whole,
Than the pessimistic balladists who sing What-Might-Have-Been !
Stevedores and sailor men,
Greaser-folk and whaler-men —
These, good Lord, go heftily, nor fret about their souls !
These with steam and sturdiness,
Whilst parsons rage in wordiness,
Go back and forth incessantly betwixt their ocean-goals !

Whilst the legislators pose,
Swing the piston-rods and throws —
The screws in subtle harmony commune beneath the sea ;
Yea, an under-song they sing
Of the goods they take and bring —
Of Men complete and masterful whose servants strong they be !
Of the far Hoboken piers,
Of the swearing engineers —
Of all the careless sailor-men who take them out and in ;
Lo, of these a song they chant —
Of the gull and cormorant,
And all the time exultantly they beat the seas and spin !
From the jungled Sundarbans
To the bridge that Brooklyn spans —
All round the world from ’Video to Hull or Helsingfors ;
Singing deep beneath the sea,
Can’t you hear them — singing free,
While the firemen swing their shovels at the blazing furnace-doors !
Merchant-ships and fighting-ships,
Cable-ships and smiting ships —
German craft and Britishers, and all the world’s besides ;
These they sing, propelling them —
The song the screws are telling them,
Round the world and back again upon the crooning tides !

Have the Crozets seen them go,
Marching swiftly to and fro ?
Have the Cocos heard them beating through the star-splashed tropic night ?
Have the seven Elder Seas
Nursed them fondly on their knees —
Nursed the ships that Man hath fashioned featly planned and fashioned right ?
Lo, the Harbours know them all,
Know the cargo-tanks that call —
Each hath gripped them long and lustily beside its tarry piers ;
Had the world but singing lips,
It would chant of steam and ships —
It would sing of craft and captains, stoker-folk and engineers !
Were the seas articulate,
Would they chaunt old songs of hate ?
Nay, their songs were of the Master and his ships of hammered steel ;
Had the universe a voice,
Would it sing a dirge for choice ?
Nay, its song were of the Builders who had mated shaft and keel !
Timber-ships and cattle-ships,
Old wheat-ships and battleships —
These the singing Universe would celebrate at morn !
And, I, who love them lustily,
Would weave an anthem trustily
For all the Ships and Sailor-folk ’twixt Trondjhem and the Horn !

Grant Hervey. Australians Yet and Other Verses, Thomas C. Lothian, Melbourne, 1913, pages 179-183

[Editor: Corrected “chaunt” to “chant”.]

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