Cargoes by John Mansfield
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 also known this poem from school days: “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 oral renditions of it on YouTube. I think what I liked about the poem (and still do) was the exotic-sounding words, not to mention the rhythm of the seas, and the sense of the wind in the sails. It lifted me out of the dreary classroom and into exotic faraway places .
The contrast of the last stanza, with the two preceding ones, always enchanted me in class. That’s when the rhythm changes to mimic the type of sturdy, industrial-age “coaster” vessel and its more prosaic cargo.
I read somewhere that the cargo items in Stanza 2 were taken directly from the Bible.
And then, another amazing thing happened more recently. I came across some gorgeous pictures of the three vessels depicted in the poem. Someone had researched the poem, and created delightful pictures of each one of the ships. Only later on did I notice the postage stamp collage technique, used as a construct for each of the ships and the surrounds.
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
Let me explain about these lovely pictures. While googling, I came across a fellow-blogger and admirer of this poem: a woman who lives in the UK. Rachel Markwick’s mother used to read the poem to her as a child. Rachel is a creative artist and blogger. She showcases some of her work on her website at http://www.rachelmarkwick.co.uk
Find a YouTube rendition of the poem by Tom O’Bedlam at https://youtu.be/WSbQ0qwQwuk