I woke up the other morning with an old verse I’d learnt at school–not sure which year, but it was at least half a century ago–playing in my head like on a tape recorder. And the rhythm was still there! I’m sure some of my readers will have learnt this poem at school, also: “Cargoes” by John Masefield? Even the foreign words were still intact and popping up out of the subconscious like bubbles from a geyser.
It took me some days before I got around to Googling the poem and finding the three oral renditions of it on YouTube. I think what I liked about the poem (and still do) was the exotic sounding words and the rhythm of the seas and the wind in the sails. It lifted me out of the dreary classroom and into exotic romantic places faraway.
Also the contrast with the last stanza when the rhythm changes to mimic the type of sturdy industrial age vessel and its more prosaic cargo. I read somewhere that the cargo items in Stanza 2 were taken directly from the Bible.
Quinquireme of Nineveh from distant Ophir,
Rowing home to haven in sunny Palestine,
With a cargo of ivory,
And apes and peacocks,
Sandalwood, cedarwood, and sweet white wine.
Stately Spanish galleon coming from the Isthmus,
Dipping through the Tropics by the palm-green shores,
With a cargo of diamonds,
Topazes, and cinnamon, and gold moidores.
Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack,
Butting through the Channel in the mad March days,
With a cargo of Tyne coal,
Firewood, iron-ware, and cheap tin trays.
by John Masefield, 1878-1967
Which rendition of the poem do you prefer?