Tuesday Poem – A Ballad of John Silver – John Masefield

Coming across John Masefield recently, I was reminded of  what were some of my favourite poems as a  secondary school pupil, namely Cargoes and Sea Fever.  And then I discovered his poem A Ballad of John Silver, a rather bloodthirsty piece, that reminded me of a time around my seventh and eighth years when I read every pirate story I could lay my hands on.  I wasn’t particularly blood thirsty though so what was the attraction?  I think the colour, of their clothes and language, their daring, their adventures…their parrots! And the excitement of the sea and the ships!  Hopefully not the brains splattered on the decks! Read and listen to this poem by John Masefield and see what you think.  And after that, scroll down and read his short but wonderfully imageric poem Cargoes. (Imageric may not be in the dictionary by the way but it should be.)


Quinquireme of Nineveh from distant Ophir,
Rowing home to haven in sunny Palestine,
With a cargo of ivory,
And apes and peacocks,
Sandalwood, cedarwood, and sweet white wine.
Stately Spanish galleon coming from the Isthmus,
Dipping through the Tropics by the palm-green shores,
With a cargo of diamonds, Emeralds, amethysts,
Topazes, and cinnamon, and gold moidores.
Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack,
Butting through the Channel in the mad March days,
With a cargo of Tyne coal, Road-rails, pig-lead,
Firewood, iron-ware, and cheap tin trays.

John Masefield

Cargoes is a poem to be read aloud.  The word pictures, the sounds,  the contrast between the glamour of precious stones and the Tyne coal.  And that first line…the poem would be lost without it in my opinion. What is a Quinquireme by the way?  Go here to behold some pictorially! John Masefield, an English poet born 1878 –  d.1967, had an interesting start. After an unhappy education at the King’s School in Warwick (now known as Warwick School), where he was a boarder between 1888 and 1891, he left to board the HMS Conway, both to train for a life at sea, and to break his addiction to reading, of which his aunt thought little. He spent several years aboard this ship and found that he could spend much of his time reading and writing. It was aboard the Conway that Masefield’s love for story-telling grew. While on the ship, he listened to the stories told about sea lore. He continued to read, and felt that he was to become a writer and story teller himself.  He was named Poet Laureate of England in 1930 and kept that title until his death 37 years later. To read more about John Masefield from Wikipedia, go here. And now if you haven’t been there already please return to Tuesday Poem’s hub page and check out its cargo of poetic riches!  Have a great week and watch out for pirates 🙂

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