Verse > Rudyard Kipling > Verse: 1885–1918
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Rudyard Kipling (1865–1936).  Verse: 1885–1918.  1922.
 
The Merchantmen
 
1893

        KING SOLOMON drew merchantmen,
          Because of his desire
        For peacocks, apes, and ivory,
          From Tarshish unto Tyre,
        With cedars out of Lebanon        5
          Which Hiram rafted down,
        But we be only sailormen
          That use in London town.
 
Coastwise—cross-seas—round the world and back again
    Where the flaw shall head us or the full Trade suits—        10
Plain-sail—storm-sail—lay your board and tack again
  And that’s the way we’ll pay Paddy Doyle for his boots!
 
        We bring no store of ingots,
          Of spice or precious stones,
        But what we have we gathered        15
          With sweat and aching bones:
        In flame beneath the tropics,
          In frost upon the floe,
        And jeopardy of every wind
          That does between them go.        20
 
        And some we got by purchase,
          And some we had by trade,
        And some we found by courtesy
          Of pike and carronade—
        At midnight, ’mid-sea meetings,        25
          For charity to keep,
        And light the rolling homeward-bound
          That rode a foot too deep!
 
        By sport of bitter weather
          We’re walty, strained, and scarred        30
        From the kentledge on the kelson
          To the slings upon the yard.
        Six oceans had their will of us
          To carry all away—
        Our galley’s in the Baltic,        35
          And our boom’s in Mossel Bay!
 
        We’ve floundered off the Texel,
          Awash with sodden deals,
        We’ve slipped from Valparaiso
          With the Norther at our heels:        40
        We’ve ratched beyond the Crossets
          That tusk the Southern Pole,
        And dipped our gunnels under
          To the dread Agulhas roll.
 
        Beyond all outer charting        45
          We sailed where none have sailed,
        And saw the land-lights burning
          On islands none have hailed;
        Our hair stood up for wonder,
          But, when the night was done,        50
        There danced the deep to windward
          Blue-empty ’neath the sun!
 
        Strange consorts rode beside us
          And brought us evil luck;
        The witch-fire climbed our channels,        55
          And flared on vane and truck:
        Till, through the red tornado,
          That lashed us nigh to blind,
        We saw The Dutchman plunging,
          Full canvas, head to wind!        60
 
        We’ve heard the Midnight Leadsman
          That calls the black deep down—
        Ay, thrice we’ve heard The Swimmer,
          The Thing that may not drown.
        On frozen bunt and gasket        65
          The sleet-cloud drave her hosts,
        When, manned by more than signed with us
          We passed the Isle of Ghosts!
 
        And north, amid the hummocks,
          A biscuit-toss below,        70
        We met the silent shallop
          That frighted whalers know;
        For, down a cruel ice-lane,
          That opened as he sped,
        We saw dead Hendrick Hudson        75
          Steer, North by West, his dead.
 
        So dealt God’s waters with us
          Beneath the roaring skies,
        So walked His signs and marvels
          All naked to our eyes:        80
        But we were heading homeward
          With trade to lose or make—
        Good Lord, they slipped behind us
          In the tailing of our wake!
 
        Let go, let go the anchors;        85
          Now shamed at heart are we
        To bring so poor a cargo home
          That had for gift the sea!
        Let go the great bow-anchor—
          Ah, fools were we and blind—        90
        The worst we stored with utter toil,
          The best we left behind!
 
Coastwise—cross-seas—round the world and back again,
  Whither flaw shall fail us or the Trades drive down:
Plain-sail—storm-sail—lay your board and tack again        95
  And all to bring a cargo up to London Town!
 
 
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