The Old Ships

Posted: October 31, 2013 in Poetry
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Famagusta.  What a lovely word!  Earlier this week I was reading a book that talked about Famagusta, Cyprus and mentioned this poem.  It was a joy to read.  Take time to read it aloud or, at least, read it in aloud in your head. ,  Poetry is meant to be read and enjoyed.  Let this one fire your imagination.


The Old Ships

James Elroy Flecker

I have seen old ships sail like swans asleep
Beyond the village which men call Tyre,
With leaden age o’ercargoed, dipping deep
For Famagusta and the hidden sun
That rings black Cyprus with a lake of fire;
And all those ships were certainly so old
Who knows how oft with squat and noisy gun,
Questing brown slaves or Syrian oranges,
The pirate Genoese
Hell-raked them till they rolled
Blood, water, fruit and corpses up the hold.
But now through friendly seas they softly run,
Painted the mid-sea blue or shore-sea green,
Still patterned with the vine and grapes in gold.
But I have seen,
Pointing her shapely shadows from the dawn
And image tumbled on a rose-swept bay,
A drowsy ship of some yet older day;
And, wonder’s breath indrawn,
Thought I – who knows – who knows – but in that same
(Fished up beyond Aeaea, patched up new –
Stern painted brighter blue -)
That talkative, bald-headed seaman came
(Twelve patient comrades sweating at the oar)
From Troy’s doom-crimson shore,
And with great lies about his wooden horse
Set the crew laughing, and forgot his course.It was so old a ship – who knows, who knows? –
And yet so beautiful, I watched in vain
To see the mast burst open with a rose,
And the whole deck put on its leaves again.
If you’d like to read a bit of commentary on the poem, you’ll find some here.


  1. helenscribe says:

    So utterly marvellous. Evocative, and how the words roll beautifully off the inner tongue, calling up old dreams, old myths and John Masefield forsooth.

  2. adinparadise says:

    What a wonderful poem, Janet. Your beautiful B&W photos really set the scene. 🙂

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