Your muse is live in the city and the bush

a funny thing happened …

Cargoes by John Mansfield

I woke up the other morning with an old verse I’d learnt at school — not sure which year, but it was at least half a century ago — playing in my head like on a tape recorder. And the rhythm was still there!

I’m sure some of my readers will have also known this poem from school days: “Cargoes” by John Masefield?

Even the foreign words were still intact and popping up out of the subconscious like bubbles from a geyser.

It took me some days before I got around to Googling the poem and finding oral renditions of it on YouTube. I think what I liked about the poem (and still do) was the exotic-sounding words, not to mention the rhythm of the seas, and the sense of the wind in the sails. It lifted me out of the dreary classroom and into exotic faraway places .

The contrast of the last stanza, with the two preceding ones, always enchanted me in class. That’s when the rhythm changes to mimic the type of sturdy, industrial-age “coaster” vessel and its more prosaic cargo.

I read somewhere that the cargo items in Stanza 2 were taken directly from the Bible.

And then, another amazing thing happened more recently. I came across some gorgeous pictures of the three vessels depicted in the poem. Someone had researched the poem, and created delightful pictures of each one of the ships. Only later on did I notice the postage stamp collage technique, used as a construct for each of the ships and the surrounds.


Quinquireme of Ninevah from Rachel’s website


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 from Rachel’s website

Stately Spanish galleon coming from the Isthmus,
Dipping through the Tropics by the palm-green shores,
With a cargo of diamonds,
Emeralds, amythysts,
Topazes, and cinnamon, and gold moidores.


Dirty British Coaster from Rachel’s website

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.

by John Masefield, 1878-1967

Let me explain about these lovely pictures. While googling, I came across a fellow-blogger and admirer of this poem: a woman who lives in the UK. Rachel Markwick’s mother used to read the poem to her as a child. Rachel is a creative artist and blogger. She showcases some of her work on her website at

Rachel writes:
 My parents had been part-time stamp dealers, and when my father died in 2001, it became necessary to part with a lot of the stamp stock which filled an entire room in their bungalow. But some was kept back. I was on an art course at our local college, and one of the modules required us to illustrate a poem!
So, it felt natural to choose my favourite poem, and somehow the idea came to me to make collages with the stamps, as they themselves were cargoes of sorts from all parts of the world. And it was only then that I actually found out what a Quinquireme was. I did extensive research to find out about the “gold moidores” too, and lovely to see a couple of examples on your website!  I loved the challenge of finding stamps to fit the theme, and if you look closely you will see stamps of Palestine as well as factory chimneys.
I created an “artist’s book”, and also have pages where I used my dad’s old typewriter (he was a journalist) to type up the verses in an old stamp album, surrounding the verses with stamps depicting peacocks, apes, coins etc . I had given some thought to getting it published, but copyright issues have deterred me so far.
Thanks to Rachel for this fascinating insight into the genesis of these pictures. I’m thinking how I’d like to have prints of the ships for my wall.

Find a YouTube rendition of the poem by Tom O’Bedlam at


  1. Ian Harry Wells


    What a great poem and what great memories it evokes. I also learnt it by rote as a primary student. Even more bizarrely I taught it to my students when I was a teacher. I loved and still love the exotic words but was and still am more impressed by the metre and the way it changes for the final verse. I love the plodding metre of that last verse. What a contrast.

    I remember as a primary pupil seeking out dictionary and encyclopaedia references to find what a Quinquireme was, what gold moidores were and what an Isthmus was. I was quite impressed when my dad told me Tyne coal was coal from the area near Newcastle in England where he had been born and that his father had been a miner of Tyne coal before and after his time as a soldier in WW1.

    Great memories. Thanks for the reminder.

    • Anne Skyvington

      Yes, it was buried deep in my subconscious mind for ages, and I just woke up one morning, thinking about it. Interesting connections happening here. I remember the male teacher I had, perhaps in high school, really dramatising it, especially the last stanza. So glad you liked it as well, ian. Thanks

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *