Notes

Original poem
by C. Fox Smith

Printable version

MP3 Sample

The Old Fiddle

Original words by Cicely Fox Smith 1914
In SMALL CRAFT, pp. 91-95
Adapted by Charles Ipcar, 2005

Tune: Charles Ipcar 2005

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By Chinese Charley's junkstore, by the Panama Saloon,
Where 'longshore loafers lean and spit, morning, night, and noon,
Among the keys without a lock, and locks without a key,
The old boss-eyed binoculars and sextants on the spree;
New Brummagem and old Bombay, a-tumbling side by side,
A brown bald-headed idol and an "Extra Master's Guide,"
Mouldy, musty, dull and dusty, broken on the shelf,
I thought I heard the sailor's fiddle singing to itself.

Singing in a queer old quaver, shaky, shrill, and sad,
Like an old man singing songs he knew when he was just a lad,
Singing of them good old times that all too fast did fly,
When the world was so much younger, in the years that have gone by.

There were scraps of dead old choruses and snatches of old tunes,
We surely knew in other worlds and under other moons;
There was singing on the fo'c's'le, with a sky so full of stars,
And bits o' tipsy shouting out of gaudy, glary bars;
Little tunes on Chinese fiddles up some narrow curving street
Full of dinky Chinee houses, where the East and West do meet;
"Ranzo, Ranzo, Reuben Ranzo" came the sound to me
Of a chantey chorus roaring 'bove the roaring of the sea.

Was it only seagulls piping, faint and far away,
In their rows along the freight-sheds where they congregate all day, -
Mewing round the back cove, where the tugboats lie
Or a song we sang together, in the years that have gone by?

There were ships that once I sailed on, ships both great and small,
Some were good, some were bad, but, Lord, I loved 'em all;
There were rusty-red old hookers, going plugging round the world,
And Clyde-built China clippers with their splendid wings unfurled;
And all the winds of all the seas came swirling down the street,
With its smell of beer and harbour-mud, and tread of weary feet,
Easterlies, and westerlies, all thrashing through the sails,
And the Trades' low whining humming, and them Bay of Biscay gales.

Was I waking, was I sleeping, where did the wild wind go,
Thrumming in the slender tops of ships I used to know,
With the deep-sea glory on them, all against a sunset sky,
On the tide o' dreams a-sailing, from the years that have gone by?

There were shipmates long forgotten, friends both false and true,
That I'd sailed with once and lost again, the way that sailors do;
There were friends I loved and lost, with faces all a-shine,
Came and walked a while beside me, with their hand in mine;
Are you dead or living, comrade, near or far away?
Do you ever think of me, lad, your friend upon a day?
Late or soon, night or noon, you and I will meet,
All the waves and winds behind us, strolling down this street.

Was it but the rippling tide that by the wharf did flow, -
Or the footsteps of my comrades from many years ago?
Did I hear the waves lap-laping, did I hear the sea wind sigh, -
Or the voices of my shipmates, from the years that have gone by?

By Chinese Charley's junk-store, by the Panama Saloon,
I walked and talked with shadows there, all in the glare of noon,
Among the keys without a lock, and locks without a key,
The old boss-eyed binoculars, and sextants on the spree;
New Brummagem and old Bombay a-tumbling side by side,
A brown bald-headed idol and an "Extra Master's Guide," -
Mouldy, musty, dull and dusty, broken on the shelf,
I thought I heard the sailor's fiddle singing to itself.

Yes, singing in a queer old quaver, shaky, shrill, and sad,
Like an old man singing songs he knew when he was just a lad,
Singing of them good old times that all too fast did fly,
When the world was so much younger, - in the years that have gone by;
When the world was so much younger, - in the years that have gone by.

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Notes:

"Boss-eyed" is an archaic word for cross-eyed or wall-eyed

"Brummagem" is the old name for the industrial City of Birmingham and here means newer shoddy goods, while the reference to "Bombay" may imply older exotic goods

Cicely Fox Smith was fond of poking around the waterfronts of sailortown, and one of the typical shops she most loved was the nautical junk-store, chock-a-block with mundane and exotic artifacts from the seven seas. I recall a similar "Twilight Zone" nautical junk-store along Portland's working waterfront in the 1960's that I used to frequent. Today we have the more upscale version, places like the China Sea Marine Trading Co., but which somehow still evoke that dream-like sense of another era.

Now in adapting this poem for singing I've taken some liberties in changing some words. In some cases it's to aid with singing and in others it's a personal choice. However, you can decide which version you prefer or change it to suit yourself. I've tried several tunes, one reminiscent of an old train wreck song, but the one I'm using now is a more haunting minor tune, which I shift up an octave here and there. I'll link a MP3 file to this thread when the arrangement settles down. I actually sing it in the key of Dm.

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Words by Cicely Fox Smith 1914
SONGS AND CHANTIES, Elkin Mathews, pp. 19-22
Also in SMALL CRAFT 1920, pp. 91-95

THE OLD FIDDLE


By Chinese Charley's junk-store, by the Panama Saloon,
Where 'longshore loafers lean and spit, at morning, night, and noon,
All among the keys without a lock, and locks without a key,
The old boss-eyed binoculars and sextants on the spree,
New Brummagem and old Bombay a-tumbling side by side,
A brown bald-headed idol and an "Extra Master's Guide,"
Mouldy, musty, dumb and dusty, broken on the shelf,
I thought I heard the sailor's fiddle singing to itself.

Singing in a queer old quaver, shaky, shrill, and sad,
Like an old man singing songs he knew when he was yet a lad,
Singing of a good old time that all too fast did fly,
When the world was rather younger in the years gone by.

There were scraps of dead old choruses and snatches of old tunes,
We surely knew in other worlds and under other moons;
There was singing in the half-deck, and the sky full o' stars;
And bits o' tipsy shouting out of gaudy, glary bars;
Little tunes on Chinese fiddles in a quiet street
Full of dinky Chinee houses, where the East and West do meet;
"Ranzo, Ranzo, Reuben Ranzo" came the sound to me
Of a chantey chorus roaring with the roaring sea.

Was it only seagulls piping faint and far away,
All in rows along the freight-sheds where they sit all day, -
Mewing round the inner harbour where the tugboats lie
Or a song we sang together in the years gone by?

There were ships that once I sailed in, sail and steam, and great and small;
And some were good and some were bad, but, Lord, I loved 'em all;
There were rusty-red old hookers going plugging round the world,
And Clyde-built China clippers with their splendid wings unfurled;
And all the winds of all the seas came singing down the street,
With its smell of beer and harbour-mud, and tread of weary feet,
Till I heard the stormy westerlies go thrashing through the sails,
And the Trades' low thunder, and the Biscay gales.

Was I waking, was I sleeping, did the wet wind go
Thrumming in the slender tops of ships I used to know,
With the deep-sea glory on them all against a sunset sky,
On the tide o' dreams a-sailing out of years gone by?

There were faces long forgotten, friends both false and true
I sailed with once and lost again, the way that sailors do;
There were folks I loved and lost with smiling faces all a-shine,
Came and walked a while beside me with a hand in mine;
Are you dead or living, comrade, near or far away?
Do you ever think of me, lad, friend upon a day?
Late or soon, lad, night or noon, lad, you and I will meet,
All the seas and years behind us, strolling down the street.

Was it but the muttering tide that by the wharf did go, -
Or the footsteps of a comrade out of long ago?
Did I hear the wave lap and the light wind sigh, -
Or the voices of my shipmates in the years gone by?

By Chinese Charley's junk-store, by the Panama Saloon,
I walked and talked with shadows there in all the glare of noon,
Where among the keys without a lock and locks without a key,
The old boss-eyed binoculars and sextants on the spree,
New Brummagem and old Bombay a-tumbling side by side,
A brown bald-headed idol and an "Extra Master's Guide,"
Mouldy, musty, dumb and dusty, broken on the shelf,
I thought I heard the sailor's fiddle singing to itself.

Notes:

"Boss-eyed" is an archaic word for cross-eyed or wall-eyed

"Brummagem" is the old name for Birmingham and here means shoddy goods, as does the reference to "Bombay"

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