High Noon in the TropicsPoem by Cicely Fox Smith © 1923
Adapted for singing by Mike Kennedy © 2010
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It's rum how things come back to you, down by the Docks;
I stopped in a junk store, filled with boots and broken clocks,
And there by the door, a flying-fish, dingy and gray,
That once glittered like a rainbow, as it flittered through the spray;
And, Lord, it came back to me! As clear as it could be,
High noon in the Tropics, the ship running free,
And the blue old Pacific, just as far as you could see.
The sway of the masts, the dip and lift of the rail:
The mate with his eye cocked aloft, at the set of sail;
The barefoot helmsman at the wheel, in his trousers and his vest,
A glint of light from his ear-ring, and a sea snake tattooed on his chest;
High Noon in the Tropics, the white, the gold, the blue,
The glittering of the flying-fish, as they flew,
And the songs we sang and the tales we told, and the shipmates that we knew.
It passed as a dream; I was back in port again,
With my collar turned up to my ears, in the cold and rain,
And as I walked beside the Docks, I heard the North Wind say,
"Oh, to be in the Tropics! Ten thousand miles away;
"Oh, to be in the Tropics! Ten thousand miles away!"
My friend Mike Kennedy set this Cicely Fox Smith poem to music and has graciously permitted me to record it. Here the old sailor steps into a nautical junk shop and is once again transported to the sailing days of his youth. Alison Lee Freeman provides harmony on this song.
The header graphic is from a set published in London by Abraham Rees in the period 1797-1820.
By Cicely Fox Smith © 1923
From Full Sail: More Sea Songs and Ballads, edited by Cicely Fox Smith,
published by Houghton Mifflin Co., New York, US, © 1926, pp. 61-63.
First published in Punch magazine, Volume 165, 1923.
And, chucked in a heap with a lot of such litter, there lay
A badly stuffed flying-fish, dingy and dusty and grey,
That had gleamed like a rainbow long since as it flitted through sunshine and spray.
And, Lord! how it brought it all back to me! Clear as could be,
High noon in the Tropics – the ship running free,
And the blue old Pacific a-shining as far as a fellow could see . . .
The sway of the masts and the slow dip and lift of the rail:
The mate with his eye cocked aloft at the set of the sail,
And the bosun, the ugly old image, his mouth opened wide in a hail:
Old Sails with his palm and his needle, cross-legged on the hatch,
A-stitching away at a bolt-rope, or putting a patch
In a fair-weather topsail, and spinning his endless old yarns with the watch:
Old Slush at the door of his galley: and Chips with his chest:
The barefooted man at the wheel in his trousers and vest,
The flash of the rings in his ears and the sea-snake tattooed on his breast.
High noon in the Tropics – the white and the gold and the blue,
The glitter of flying-fish scattering spray as they flew,
The songs that we sang and the tales that we told and the shipmates we knew!
Then it passed like a dream: I was back here in Poplar again
With my collar turned up to my ears in the cold and the rain,
And the ships as they groped through the river mist wailing like creatures in pain.