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A Ship in a Bottle


In a sailormen's restaurant Rotherhithe way,

Where the din of the docksides is loud all the day,

And the breezes come bringing off basin and pond

And all the piled acres of lumber beyond,

From the Oregon ranges the tang of the pine

And the breath of the Baltic as bracing as wine....

Among the stale odours of hot food and cold,

In a fly-spotted window I there did behold

A ship on a bottle some sailor had made

In watches below, swinging South with the Trade,

When the fellows were patching old dungaree suits,

Or mending up oilskins and leaky sea-boots,

Or whittling a model, or painting a chest,

Or smoking and yarning and watching the rest.


In fancy I saw him-all weathered and browned,

Deep crows'-feet and wrinkles his eyelids around,

A pipe in his teeth that seemed little the worse

For Liverpool pantiles and stringly salt horse....

The hairy forearm with its gaudy tattoo

Of a bold-looking female in scarlet and blue....

The fingers all roughened and toughened and scarred,

With hauling and hoisting so calloused and hard,

So crooked and stiff you would wonder that still

They could handle with cunning and fashion with skill

The tiny full-rigger predestined to ride

To its cable of thread on its green-painted tide,

In its wine-bottle world while the old world went on,

And the sailor who made it was long ago done.

And still as he worked at the toy on his knee

He would spin his old yarns of the ships and the sea,

Thermopylae, Lightening, Lothair and Red Jacket,

And many another such famous old packet­


And many a tough bucko and daredevil skipper

In Liverpool blood-boat and Colonies clipper

­The sail that they carried aboard the Black Ball,

Their skysails and stunsails and ringtail and all,

And storms that they weathered. and races they won,

And records they broke in the days that are done.


Or else he would sing you some droning old songs,

Some old sailor's ditty both mournful and long,

With queer little curleycues, twiddles and quavers,

Or smugglers and privateers, pirates and slavers,

'The Brave Female Smuggler', the 'packet of fame

That sails from New York, an' the Dreadnought's her name',

And 'All on the coast of the High Barbaree',

And 'The flash girls of London were the downfall of he'.


In fancy I listened, in fancy could hear

The thrum of the shrouds and the creak of the gear,

The patter of reef-points and tops'ls a-shiver,

The song of the jibs when they tauten and quiver,

The cry of the frigate-bird following after,

The bow-wave that broke with a gurgle like laughter;

And I looked on my youth with its pleasure and pain,

And the shipmate I loved was beside me again....

In a ship in a bottle a-sailing away

In the flying-fish weather through rainbows of spray,

Over oceans of wonder by headlands of gleam

To the harbours of youth on the wind of a dream!



                                                  Unknown Poet