Notes

Original poem
by Cicely Fox Smith

Printable version

MP3 Sample

A Ship in a Bottle

Original words by Cicely Fox Smith
from SHIP MODELS by Cicely Fox Smith,
published by Conway Maritime Press in 1972, p. 87,
from an original Country Life publication of 1951.

Adapted for singing by Charles Ipcar 8/2/07
Tune: after Old Orange Flute

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In a sailormen's restaurant down Rotherhithe way,
Where the din of the docksides rings loud all the day,
Among the stale odours of hot food and cold,
In a fly-spotted window I there did behold
A ship in a bottle some sailor had made
In his watches below, swinging South with the Trade,
While his messmates were patchin' old dungaree suits,
Or mending up oilskins and leaky sea-boots.

Chorus:
A ship in a bottle a-sailing away,
In flying-fish weather through rainbows of spray,
Over oceans of wonder, by headlands a-gleam,
To the harbours of youth, on the wind of a dream!

That tiny full-rigger predestined to ride
To its cable of thread on its green-painted tide
In its wine-bottle world while the new world rolls on,
Tho' the sailor who made it was long ago gone;
His fingers all roughened, toughened and scarred,
With hauling and hoisting, so calloused and hard;
So crooked and stiff you might wonder that still
They could fashion that ship with such cunning and skill.

Chorus

In fancy I saw him all weathered and browned,
Deep crows'-feet and wrinkles his eyelids around,
The hairy forearm with its gaudy tattoo
Of a bold-looking female in scarlet and blue;
In fancy I listened, in fancy could hear
The thrum of the shrouds and the creak of the gear;
Then I thought of my youth with its pleasure and pain,
And the shipmate I loved was beside me again.

Chorus

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Notes:

This poem is taken from the book Ship Models by Cicely Fox Smith (page 87) published by Conway Maritime Press in 1972 from an original Country Life publication of 1951. The title is that of the Chapter it opens.

Further Note by Charlie Ipcar

This is the first time I've noticed this additional reference to Cicely's lost sailor love:

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!

Many of her poems mentioned a sailor named Dan and in "Lee Fore Brace" Dan was one of the three sailors lost that night and as she said to herself in that poem:

An' I'll drink my drink an' I'll sing my song,
An' nobody'll know but me
A lump o' my heart went down with Dan
That night in the wild Horn sea!

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A SHIP IN A BOTTLE

Original poem by C. Fox Smith,
from SHIP MODELS by Cicely Fox Smith,
published by Conway Maritime Press in 1972, p. 87
from an original Country Life publication of 1951

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 in 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 the teeth that seemed little the worse
For Liverpool pantiles and stringy 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 gone.

And still as he worked at the toy on his knee
He would spin his old yarns of the ships and the sea,
Thermopylae, Lightning, 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 song,
Some old sailor's ditty both mournful and long,
With queer little curleycues, twiddles and quavers,
Of 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 on 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!

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