Wednesday, 12 February 2014
Ghosts In Deptford by Cicely Fox Smith
Ghosts In Deptford
If ghosts should walk in Deptford, as very well they may,
A man might find the night there more stirring than the day,
Might meet a Russian Tsar there, or see in Spain's despite
Queen Bess ride down to Deptford to dub Sir Francis knight.
And loitering here and yonder, and jostling to and fro,
In every street and alley the sailor-folk would go,
All colours, creeds, and nations, in fashion old and new,
If ghosts should walk in Deptford, as like enough they do.
And there'd be some with pigtails, and some with buckled shoes,
And smocks and caps like pirates that sailors once did use,
And high sea-boots and oilskins and tarry dungaree,
And shoddy suits men sold them when they came fresh from sea.
And there'd be stout old skippers and mates of mighty hand,
And Chinks and swarthy Dagoes, and Yankees lean and tanned,
And many a hairy shellback burned black from Southern skies,
And brassbound young apprentice with boyhood's eager eyes,
And by the river reaches all silver to the moon
You'd hear the shipwrights' hammers beat out a phantom tune,
The caulkers' ghostly mallets rub-dub their faint tattoo —
If ghosts should walk in Deptford, as very like they do.
If ghosts should walk in Deptford, and ships return once more
To every well-known mooring and old familiar shore,
A sight it were to see there, of all fine sights there be,
The shadowy ships of Deptford come crowding in from sea.
Cog, carrack, buss and dromond — pink, pinnace, snake and snow —
Queer rigs of antique fashion that vanished long ago,
With tall and towering fo'c'sles and curving carven prows,
And gilded great poop lanterns, and scrolled and swelling bows.
The Baltic barque that foundered in last month’s North Sea gales,
And last year's lost Cape Horner on her sails,
Black tramp and stately liner should lie there side by side
Ay, all should berth together upon that silent tide.
In dock and pond and basin so close the keels should lie
Their hulls should hide the water, their masts make dark the sky,
And through their tangled rigging the netted stars should gleam
Like gold and silver fishes from some celestial stream.
And all their quivering royals and all their singing spars
Should send a ghostly music a-shivering to the stars —
A sound like Norway forests when wintry winds are high,
Or old dead seamen's shanties from great old days gone by, —
Till eastward over Limehouse, on river, dock and slum,
All shot with pearl and crimson the London dawn should come,
And fast at flash of sunrise, and swift at break of day,
The shadowy ships of Deptford should melt like mist away.
Cicely Fox Smith was born 1 February 1882, into a middle-class family in Lymm, near Warrington, England during the latter half of the reign of Queen Victoria. Her father was a barrister and her grandfather was a clergyman. Smith well might have been expected to have a brief education and then to settle down to life as a home-maker either for her family or her marriage partner.
She was well educated at Manchester High School for Girls from 1894 to 1897, where she described herself later as "something of a rebel," and started writing poems at a comparatively early age. In an article for the school magazine Smith later wrote "I have a hazy recollection of epic poems after Pope's Iliad, romantic poems after Marmion stored carefully away in tin tobacco boxes when I was seven or eight." All of that early work is lost unfortunately. She published her first book of verses when she was 17 and it received favourable press comments.
Wandering the moors near her home she developed a spirit of adventure. She would follow the Holcombe Harriers[disambiguation needed] hunt on foot as a girl. She had a fierce desire to travel to Africa but eventually settled for a voyage to Canada. Smith likely sailed with her sister Madge in 1911 on a steamship to Montreal, where she would then have travelled by train to Lethbridge, Alberta, staying for about a year with her older brother Richard Andrew Smith before continuing on to British Columbia (BC). From 1912 to 1913 she resided in the James Bay neighbourhood of Victoria at the southern tip of Vancouver Island, working as a typist for the BC Lands Department and later for an attorney on the waterfront. Her spare time was spent roaming nearby wharves and alleys, talking to residents and sailors alike. She listened to and learned from the sailors' tales until she too was able to speak with that authoritative nautical air that pervades her written work.
On 23 November 1913, Smith, with her mother and sister, arrived home in Liverpool aboard the White Star Line steamer Teutonic on the eve of World War I. She and her family then settled in Hampshire.
Posted by Andrew White at Wednesday, February 12, 2014