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Poem by Owen Seaman


The Rhyme of the Kipperling


Away by the haunts of the Yang-tse-boo,
Where the Yuletide runs cold gin,
And the rollicking sign of the Lord Knows Who
Sees mariners drink like sin;
Where the Jolly Roger tips his quart
To the luck of the Union Jack;
And some are screwed on the foreign port,
And some on the starboard tack; Ч
Ever they tell the tale anew
Of the chase for the kipperling swag;
How the smack Tommy This and the smack Tommy That
They broached each other like a whiskey-vat,
And the Fuzzy-Wuz took the bag.

Now this is the law of the herring fleet that harries the northern main,
Tattooed in scars on the chests of tars with a brand like the band of Cain:
That none may woo the sea-born shrew save such as pay their way
With a kipperling netted at noon of night and cured ere the crack of day.

It was the woman Sal o' the Dune, and the men were three to one,
Bill the Skipper and Ned the Nipper and Sam that was Son of a Gun;
Bill was a Skipper and Ned was a Nipper and Sam was a Son of a Gun,
And the woman was Sal o' the Dune, as I said, and the men were three to one.

There was never a light in the sky that night of the soft midsummer gales,
But the great man-bloaters snorted low, and the young 'uns sang like whales;
And out laughed Sal (like a dog-toothed wheel was the laugh that Sal laughed she):
"Now who's for a bride on the shady side of up'ards of forty-three?"

And Neddy he swore by butt and bend, and Billy by bend and bitt,
And nautical names that no man frames but your amateur nautical wit;
And Sam said, "Shiver my topping-lifts and scuttle my foc's'le yarn,
And may I be curst, if I'm not in first with a kipperling slued astern!"

Now the smack Tommy This and the smack Tommy That and the Fuzzy-Wuz smack, all three,
Their captains bold, they were Bill and Ned and Sam respectivelee.

And it's writ in the rules that the primary schools of kippers should get off cheap
For a two mile reach off Foulness beach when the July tide's at neap;
And the lawless lubbers that lust for loot and filch the yearling stock
They get smart raps from the coastguard chaps with their blunderbuss fixed half-cock.

Now Bill the Skipper and Ned the Nipper could tell green cheese from blue,
And Bill knew a trick and Ned knew a trick, but Sam knew a trick worth two.

So Bill he sneaks a corporal's breeks and a belt of pipeclayed hide,
And splices them on to the jibsail-boom like a troopship on the tide.

And likewise Ned to his masthead he runs a rag of the Queen's,
With a rusty sword and a moke on board to bray like the Horse Marines.

But Sam sniffs gore and he keeps off-shore and he waits for things to stir,
Then he tracks for the deep with a long fog-horn rigged up like a bowchaser.

Now scarce had Ned dropped a line and lead when he spots the pipeclayed hide,
And the corporal's breeks on the jibsail-boom like a troopship on the tide;
And Bill likewise, when he ups and spies the slip of a rag of the Queen's,
And the rusty sword, and he sniffs aboard the moke of the Horse Marines.

So they each luffed sail, and they each turned tail, and they whipped their wheels like mad,
When the one he said "By the Lord, it's Ned!" and the other, "It's Bill, by Gad!"

Then about and about, and nozzle to snout, they rammed through breach and brace,
And the splinters flew as they mostly do when a Government test takes place.

Then up stole Sam with his little ram and the nautical talk flowed free,
And in good bold type might have covered two front sheets of the P.M.G.

But the fog-horn bluff was safe enough, where all was weed and weft,
And the conger-eels were a-making meals, and the pick of the tackle left
Was a binnacle-lid and a leak in the bilge and the chip of a cracked sheerstrake
And the corporal's belt and the moke's cool pelt and a portrait of Francis Drake.

So Sam he hauls the dead men's trawls and he booms for the harbour-bar,
And the splitten fry are salted dry by the blink of the morning star.

And Sal o' the Dune was wed next moon by the man that paid his way
With a kipperling netted at noon of night and cured ere the crack of day;
For such is the law of the herring fleet that bleats on the northern main,
Tattooed in scars on the chest of the tars with a brand like the brand of Cain.

And still in the haunts of the Yang-tse-boo
Ever they tell the tale anew
Of the chase for the kipperling swag;
How the smack Tommy This and the smack Tommy That
They broached each other like a whiskey-vat
And the Fuzzy-Wuz took the bag.



Owen Seaman


Owen Seaman's other poems:
  1. For the Red Cross
  2. Tactless Tactics
  3. To Belgium in Exile
  4. Fashions for Men
  5. To an Old Fogey


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