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Rudyard Kipling

Rudyard Kipling

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
           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 --
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
           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.

         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,
           For charity to keep,
         And light the rolling homeward-bound
            That rowed a foot too deep!

         By sport of bitter weather
           We're walty, strained, and scarred
         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,
           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:
         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
           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,
         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,
           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!

         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
           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,
         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
           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:
         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;
           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 --
         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 --
  And all to bring a cargo up to London Town!

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