Monday, 15 April 2013

The Ould Has-Been - Cicely Fox Smith

All down by the harbour a-walking one day,
I saw an old hulk by the wharf-side that lay,
Her topmasts lopped off and her paint weathered bare,
Red rust flaking off her, and no one to care.

Then met I a man standing lounging beside,
Who scornful did speak as he spat in the tide:
"There lies an ould has-been which once had a name
Of a sea-going clipper, a clipper of fame!"

"Time was when her races, with grain or with wool,
Were the talk of the crews, 'tween Bombay and the Pool,
When the tales of her sailing like wildfire did fly
From Leith to Port Phillip, from Cork to Shanghai."

"But now who's a glance for her, limping her round
With coal for the ferries that ply on the Sound?
And who that now sees her would know her the same
Which once was a clipper, a clipper of fame!"

Oh, long I stood gazing there, sad to be told
How all men neglected her, now she grew old;
And my heart just to see her with pity was sore
For her, once so lovely, now lovely no more.

I marked the thick grime on her main-deck forlorn,
I marked the poor masts of her, woeful and shorn;
And all of my thought was that sure it was shame
To see such an end of that clipper of fame.

I thought of her sailing, so hopeful and proud,
The dawn of her sails like a mountain of cloud;
I thought of her battles, none stouter than she,
With the strength and the rage of her rival the sea.

Oh, better the sea that so long she did use
Should take her and break her as good ships would choose,
Some chance of the storm or some mercy of flame
Should make a brave end of that clipper of fame.

I thought of her captains, how once they would stand
So proud on the poop of their splendid command;
And all the good sailormen, each in his day
That loved her, and left her, and went on his way.

Oh, scattered the world through to-day they must be,
And some sleeping sound in the deeps of the sea;
And some will be old men grown grizzled and lame,
That were lads like myself in that clipper of fame.

But no one can steal from those stubborn old sides
The secrets she shares with the winds and the tides,
The tales that she tells of the sea and the sky
To the weed and the gulls and the ships going by.

And I took off my cap by the dingy wharf-side
To the grace and the glory, the strength and the pride,
That all were her portion who once had the name
In a day that's gone by, of a clipper of fame.

Cicely Fox Smith (1882 - 1954, England)

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