My Dad, Fred, and his favourite poetry (2)

Last time, I told you my Dad’s three favourite lines of poetry, which he would quote out loud at what he thought was the right moment.

Any mention of autumn, in any context, in real life, on TV, the fact that it was October, any of those would produce Keats’ line:

“Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness”

Sometimes he would manage the second line after it:

“Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun”

Any bird high up in the sky, perhaps a skylark but definitely not an eagle, pigeon or airliner would produce Shelley’s line:

“Hail to thee, blithe Spirit!

Bird thou never wert,”

And then, Fred’s improvement on the lines by William Henry Davies:

“What is this life if so full of care, we have no time to stand and stare ? ”

Any mention of ships though, either in real life or on television, would set him off with some phrases, or even a couple of lines, from another of Fred’s favourite poets, namely John Masefield. All the family, therefore, soon became familiar with the various vessels of his poem “Cargoes”, and their home ports.  There was a “quinquireme of Nineveh ” and a “ stately Spanish galleon coming from the Isthmus ” or, much more more likely in the North Sea off Skegness or Scarborough, perhaps, a “ dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack. ”

The first verse was a

“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.”

The second verse was equally exotic:

“Stately Spanish galleon coming from the Isthmus,
Dipping through the Tropics by the palm-green shores,
With a cargo of diamonds,
Emeralds, amythysts,
Topazes, and cinnamon, and gold moidores.”

And here’s that very galleon:

In contrast, though, the third, and last, verse is about a ship of a much humbler origin:

“Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack,
Butting through the Channel in the mad March days,
With a cargo of Tyne coal,
Road-rails, pig-lead,
Firewood, iron-ware, and cheap tin trays.”

And here it is:

And now, some of the meanings:

Nineveh was the ancient capital of Assyria. You can see its ruins on the opposite bank of the River Tigris from Mosul, in northern Iraq.

Ophir was probably one of the many empires which flourished either on the banks of the Nile or in the Horn of Africa. King Solomon received a cargo from Ophir every three years. It was a consignment of gold, silver, sandalwood, pearl, ivory, apes, and peacocks. Presumably, the quinqireme in the poem was on its way to Israel.

Amethyst is a violet variety of quartz. The name comes from the Greek “αμέθυστος“.

Moidores were a Portuguese gold coin of the early 18th century and then worth about 27 shillings.

Topaz is a silicate mineral of aluminium and fluorine with the chemical formula Al2SiO4(F, OH)2. Topaz crystallizes in the orthorhombic system, and its crystals are mostly prismatic terminated by pyramidal and other faces. (There will be a test next Monday).

As a preliminary to the test, which one is which? Moidores? Topaz? Amethyst?

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Filed under Africa, History, Literature, my Dad, Personal

16 responses to “My Dad, Fred, and his favourite poetry (2)

  1. A nice analysis of a favourite poem

    • Thank you, Derrick. I don’t think John Masefield is ever going to challenge anybody’s belief system but he can certainly write descriptions which rhyme in a natural way and which, in this case, reflect perfectly the varying ways the three ships move through the waves.

  2. GP

    Whoa, my mother used to say, “hail to thee, Blithe Spirit” every once in a while, and I never knew why or where it came from.

    • The thing that always worried me as a child was in the second line, “Bird thou never wert”. I had never heard of a “wert” and yet, once somebody told me that it was the same as “was”, it still made no sense.
      “Skylark, you were never a bird”.
      Well, what else is a skylark? That’s why I would have had his third favourite in second place, even if it is quoted slightly wrong.
      Finally, if you don’t publish a blog post before the big day, then let me wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. And above all, stay safe!

  3. It’s an interesting comparison between the jewels and riches of the first two and the dirty, industrial image of the third. Perhaps a reflection of the nations spoke about in the poem, or how times have changed!

    • Talking of times, I hadn’t noticed how widely separated the three ships are, with Nineveh at 600BC, the Spanish in 1550-ish and the steamship in 1900. The first two empires are long gone, and I wonder if he was making a point about the British Empire.
      You are certainly right, though, about the jewels and the riches of those first two ships and of the empires that owned them. Perhaps when he first wrote the poem in 1903, he couldn’t think of the British equivalent. I can’t, not beyond the Titanic!
      Incidentally, a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you and yours. And stay safe !

  4. The power of teaching poetry in our schools!

  5. You have reminded me of my dad, Ivan who whenever we went to the seaside would forever quote…”I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky, And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by”

    • I am far too flippant for all four of those lines. I would go for the Spike Milligan version:
      ”I must go down to the seas again,
      to the lonely sea and the sky,
      I left my underpants on the beach down there,
      I wonder if they’re dry !”

      May I just wish you and your family a very Happy Christmas and a Happy New Year. Let’s hope that you’ll soon be back travelling in a big jet airliner somewhere, telling us all about what you have seen.

  6. Thank you for sharing the poetry and about your Dad!!.. with the changes and the gathering of knowledge through generations, I often wonder how those authors would write yesterdays poems into today’s words, would there be changes, one wonders?.. 🙂

    Have a wonderful holiday and Merry Christmas and until we meet again..
    May love and laughter light your days,
    and warm your heart and home.
    May good and faithful friends be yours,
    wherever you may roam.
    May peace and plenty bless your world
    with joy that long endures.
    May all life’s passing seasons
    bring the best to you and yours!
    (Irish Saying)

    • Thank you so much for your good wishes. I have been on a diet recently, but that stops for a 48 hour period at 12.01 on December 25th. How happy just a simple hamburger will make me!! Or two or three.
      And Merry Christmas to you and yours. Enjoy the holiday and stay safe.

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