Classic and Contemporary Poetry
THE MERCHANTMEN, by MORLEY ROBERTS
First Line: The skippers and the mates, they know!
Last Line: As endless as some dog-watch song.
Subject(s): World War I - Naval Actions
THE skippers and the mates, they know!
The men aloft or down below,
They've heard the news and still they go.
The merchant ships still jog along
By Bay or Cape, an endless throng,
As endless as a seaman's song.
The humbler tramps aloft display
The English flag as on the day
When no one troubled such as they.
The lesser shipsbarks, schooners, brigs
A motley crowd of many rigs,
Go on their way like farmers' gigs.
Where Æolus himself has thrones
The big four-master Glasgow owns
Through Trades and Roaring Forties drones.
The lofty liners in their pride
Stem every current, every tide:
At anchor in all ports they ride.
They signal Gib., which looks and winks;
Grave Malta sees them as she thinks;
They pass old Egypt's ageless Sphinx.
Sokotra knows them; Zanzibar
Mirrors them in its oil: they are
Hove to for pilots near and far.
For them Belle Isle and bright Penmarch
Shine million-candled through the dark,
They're inside Ushant, or by Sark.
Perim and Ormuz and Cochin
Know them and nod: the mingled din
Of cities where strange idols grin.
The wharves of sea-set Singapore,
Batavia and Colombo's shore,
Where over palms the monsoons roar.
The opened parts of shut Japan,
Chemulpo's harbour and Gensan,
Strange places, Chinese, Formosan!
Head-hunters watch them in close seas,
Timor, Gilolo, Celebes,
They sail by the New Hebrides.
Their spars are tried by southern gales,
Great alien stars shine on their sails
Set for the breeze or in the brails.
To carry home their golden rape
A thousand courses still they shape
By the lone Horn or windy Cape.
They've seen the hot seas' dreadful drouth,
The bitter gales of Sixty South,
Disasters fell and greedy mouth:
The menace of the berg and floe,
The blindness of the fog and snow,
All these the English seamen know.
From Sydney to San Salvador
They know what they are seeking for:
Their gods are not the gods of war.
And still they calmly jog along
By Bay and Cape, an endless throng,
As endless as some dog-watch song.
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