Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, ON THE WATERFRONT, by WILLIAM ROSE BENET



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ON THE WATERFRONT, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Lollin' on a dock-pile, pipe a-draggin' slow
Last Line: All the ships upon the sea, an' all the things I know!
Subject(s): Hurricanes; Sailing & Sailors; Sea; Ships & Shipping; Water; Seamen; Sails; Ocean


Lollin' on a dock-pile, pipe a-draggin' slow,
Squintin' at the little tugs puffin' to an' fro,—
All the shippin' in the sunlight busy with their sails,
Winches rarin', 'ands a-swearin', cargo-'ooks an' bales;
Mist'ry o' the dirty water lappin' down below,
Lappin' an' a-lippin', "Aint ye goin' to go?"
Gawd, my 'eart is full this mornin'! Aint it swellin', though!
All the ships upon the sea, an' all the things I know!

Damn ol' wind-bag, strainin' at yer anchor,
(Aint ye goin' to go? Aint ye goin' to go?)
Dirty drab ol' 'ull, from yer fore-truck to yer spanker,
Fo'c'sle-'ead to starn, I know ye so!
Take me out, take me out, take me out along o' ye!
'Eave yer sloppy deck agin underneath my feet;
Lemme bunk wi' frowsy Swedes an' them 'eathen Dago breeds,
An' we'll start the 'ell a-goin' where the sea an' 'arbor meet!

Damn ol' storm-sow, wallerin' through 'urricanes,
Shakin' like a wet dorg—tryin' to shake us orf!
Scuppers runnin' like the Yarrow whar it runs so muddy narrow,
Dark a night as nights in Lunnon when the fawg is thick an' sof'!
Sweepin' sea, leapin' sea, shakin' us an' blindin' us,
Still our lights are swingin' through the rarin', tearin' storm.
Fightin'-glad we're fightin' on! 'Oo says that Gawd's a-mindin' us?
(Shiverin'—I'm shiverin'! An' aint this sunlight warm?)

Pa'my isles—ba'my isles—glidin' on a sea o' glass!
Sunset's on the 'arbor like a taste o' Kingdom Come.
Gels are laughin' far an' faintly, an' the music tinkles gently.
'Oo'll git lef' ashore tonight, long o' gels an' rum?
Clouds that 'ang forever on volcano-tops a-slumberin',
Music ever tinklin', an' the moonlight paths we know!
'Oo'll git lef' ashore tonight? Hours, 'oo's a-numberin'?
(Aint ye goin', aint ye goin', aint ye goin' to go?)

Frizzlin' days, sizzlin' days, shrivelin' all the pent of 'er!
We're wearin' wot Gawd gave us, an' a-spoilin' fer a fight.
'Aulin' 'ere, 'aulin' thar,—Mate so mad 'e's dumb to swar!
Oh, the cool, cool stars a-swingin' when the wind comes on 'th night!
Slum smells in the galley! The closeness an' the stink of it!
'Ell upon the 'ot decks; fo'c'sle 'ot as 'ell;
Quorlin' all along the bunks. Sleep? Don't wanter think of it!
(Say! Put up that knife, you —! Aie, thar goes eight bell!)

Swingin' lamps, battered fices plannin' some new devilment;
Stinkin' raw terbaccy smoke, cursin' somethin' sweet,—
Then, the sea's ol' roar again, an' the work that scraps 'th men,
Drowned voices in the boxin' wind, an' suddint death to meet!
Voices on the sea-wind, voices on the shore-breeze!
Wall-eye Fred, an' little Red, an' Butcher John, an' Bo,—
Cooky Black, an' Hackensack! Mateys? All my old uns.
(Aint ye goin', aint ye goin', aint ye goin' to go?)

Fair wind—foul wind! 'Ow I useter think of it!
Lyin' in the 'eadland grass, wishin' I would be
Some day, just as I 'ave been, workin' ships that I 'ave seen,
A sailorman, a sailorman on any ship at sea!
Starin' in the sunsets, wonderin' an' wonderin',
Watchin' all the sails beat 'ome. ... Oh, knowin' wot I know,
Was that black-eyed Susie right, when we 'ad our little fight?
The flashin', snappin' eyes of 'er, that said I shouldn't go?

Loafin' on a string-piece, hours a-crawlin' slow,
Dreamin' on the waterways where the big ships go,—
All the busy 'arbor shippin', all the glintin' sails,
Tramps a-coalin', smoke a-rollin', winches histin' bales,—
Wot a myst'ry in the water lappin' down below!
Lappin' an' a-lippin', "Aint ye goin' to go?"
In my 'eart the sea is swellin'. Aint it swellin', though!
All the ships upon the sea, an' all the things I know!





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