Cicely Fox Smith

Ships that Pass (An Episode of the Cruiser Patrol)

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We sighted her one day early; the forenoon watch was begun,
There was mist like wool on the water, and a glimpse of a pale, cold sun,
And she came through the dim, grey weather,--a thing of wonder and gleam,
From the port o' the Past on a bowline, close-hauled on a wind of dream.

The rust of years was upon her--she was weathered by many a gale--
The flag of a Dago republic went up to her peak at our hail;
But I knew her--Lord God! I knew her, as how could I help but know
The ship that I served my time in, no matter how long ago!

I'd have climbed to her royals blindfold, I'd have known her spars in a crowd;
Aloft and alow, I knew her, brace and halliard and shroud--
Fom the scroll-work under her stern-ports to the paint on her figure-head--
And the shout, "All hands!" on her maindeck would have tumbled me up from the dead.

She moved like a queen on the water, with the grace that was hers of yore,
The sun on her shining canvas--what had she to do with war,
With a world that is full of trouble and seas that are stained with crime?
She came like a dream remembered, dreamt once in a happier time.

She was youth, and its sorrow that passes--the light, the laughter, the joy,
The South, and the small white cities and the carefree heart of a boy,
The farewell flash of the Fastnet to light you the whole world round,
And the hoot of the tug at parting--and the song of the homeward bound,--

The sun, and the flying-fish weather--night, and a fiddle's tune,
And palms, and the warm maize-yellow of a low, West Indian moon--
Storm in the high South latitudes--and the boom of a Trade-filled sail--
And the anchor-watch in the tropics, and the old Sou' Spainer's tale.

Was it the lap of the wave I heard or the chill wind's cry,
Or a snatch of a deep-sea chanty I knew in the years gone by?
Was it the whine of the gear in the sheaves, or the seagulls' call,
Or the ghost of my shipmates' voices, tallying on to the fall?

I went through her papers duly--and no one, I hope, could see
A freight of the years departed was the cargo she bore for me!
I talked with her Dago captain while we searched her for contraband,
And...I longed for one grip of her wheel-spokes like a grip of a friend's right hand.

And I watched while her helm went over, and the sails were sheeted home
And under her moving forefoot the bubbles broke into foam,
Till she faded from sight in the greyness--a thing of wonder and gleam,
For the port of the Past on a bowline--closehauled on a wind of dream!

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Cicely Fox Smith