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Cargoes -- John Masefield

(Poem #74) Cargoes
  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
A lovely poem, and one that works on several levels. Of course, it is about
progress, and nostalgia, and as such is somewhat unsubtle. But it is also a
poem redolent with beauty; the beauty and mystery of strange and distant
lands, and forever vanished times that linger yet in racial memory, the
sensual, evocative beauty of gems and spices, the beauty of words and
phrases that flow trippingly off the tongue. Masefield was truly a poet who
could both appreciate and recapture the pleasures of the senses - he is far
more descriptive than introspective (compare, for example, Keats' 'To a
Skylark', Wordsworth's 'Daffodils' and Coleridge's 'Kublai Khan' for very
different treatments of this kind of beauty).

Incidentally, this is a lovely poem to recite subvocally - don't quite read
it out loud, but form the words with your mouth as you read them.

  moidore<e>r. Also 8 moyodore, moedor(e, moydor(e, moider, moidor.
  [Curruptly a. Pg. moeda d'ouro lit. `gold coin' (moeda money, ouro:-L.
  aurum gold). ] A gold coin of Portugal, current in England in the first
  half of the 18th century. In later use, the word survived as a name for
  the sum of 27s., which was approximately the value of the coin. -- OED


471 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

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A Pearce said...

Thank you for including "Cargoes" by John Masefield on your web site. I have
searched for it on the web a few times but to no avail until I did an
advanced search for "Cargoes poem". I learned this poem nearly 60 years ago
and loved the new words it contained. Quinquereme, Nineveh, Ophir, moidores,
even pig-lead, all fascinated me and still do. I remembered most of the poem
but thanks to you have been able to pick up the few words I could not
recall. Also I remember having these strange words explained to me, and
never forgot them.

The words have been put to music.


Thomas Jayne - SWWP said...

I like it

caracox said...

one of my favourites. the name Ophir has always fascinated me since I learnt the poem at school all too many years ago. Ophir is a name given to many goldmines in the rush of the 19th century, probably because ot the poem as well??
Cara Cox

GilesDiana said...

So glad to have found this poem. I was trying so hard to remember it as
I have recently bought a cheap tin tray (from tescos) and it bought this
memory back. I had learnt this poem at school almost 50 years ago, and like
a previous comment had also been fascinated by the words. Thank you
for including it.

Ron and Winnie Rose said...

Poem has wonderful imagery and makes us feel like we are actually on the
boats.Also we like the boat with diamonds and precious cargo.

Kay Terry said...

Thankyou. I have been meaning to find 'Cargoes' ever since I got the computer and have finally done it. I 'did' it at school, but didn't come to appreciate it until I wanted to do a course in Maritime History, and it presented itself in my mind as probably the most effective and compact description of the history of ship propulsion ever written.
I'd forgotten words from it and now have printed it to keep it on my wall along with 'Daffodils', and 'Lord of Tartary' . While I am hot to trot, I will next find Gerard Manly Hopkins 'The Falcon' - I think it is The Falcon. Another favourite.
Back to Masefield. I agree with other commenters on the use of words. The quinquereme, an ancient Roman galley used five files of oarsmen on each side of the boat. The gentleness of rowing, at least in the romantic imagination, and the exotic 'sweet white wine' tend to evoke pictures of a pleasant, easy-going lifestyle. Totally untrue, if you were an oarsman, of course.
Then the 'stateley Spanish Galleon' - and John has moved up history to the period of sail-powered vessels. Here the word 'dipping' through the tropics - feel the warmth of the sun and the verdant green shores and the turquoise sea! But the cargo has changed to become the money and jewels which had become the co-important trade objects with the European contest to rob the Americas of its wealth. The legendary beauty of the Galleon under full sail equates with the beauty of the gems and gold of the 'moidores'.
Then the 'dirty British coaster' with its 'salt-caked smoke stack', 'butting' through the Channel in the mad March days'; and now John is in Industrial Revolution Britain and the bustle and thrust of the burgeoning trade in commodities, reflected so well in the word 'butting', is picked up by the rhythm of the words which exactly copy the beat of an engine pushing the water aside as it pursues its way to prosperity for its owner.
There aren't too many attractive words in the British stanza.
I love this poem. I didn't get to do my course in Maritime History, but I have written my tiny piece on Masefields masterful encapsulation of thousands of years of human use of the sea.
Kay Terry

Honor Wilson said...

Thank you so much, this poem had been lost to me for years, all I could remember was Dirty British Coasters, must have learnt it all at school, but thanks for a very evocative memory.

Honor Wilson
Write under the name Rhona J

john.ward said...

I love this poem. My mother used to read poetry to me when I was a young
child 50 years ago and this was one of my favourites. Thank you for
bringing back memories.


Blazio said...

Thanks for putting this on the web. It brings back fond memories of my
primary school days, some 40 years ago. When my teacher first read this
poem to the class, I laughed out loud. She was quite offended. But as
an ancient history buff I found the imagery of the first stanza
delightfully absurd.

A quinquireme of Nineveh?! The quinquireme was a war galley which came
into use around the time of the Punic wars between Rome and Carthage,
centuries after the fall of Nineveh. And Nineveh was an Assyrian city
in what's now northern Iraq... how could the ship be going home to
Palestine? And, as a war galley, it could hardly be carrying any
cargo... it had no cargo hold... it was full of oarsmen. Yes, I said, I
could appreciate the beauty of the words, but I still couldn't help
laughing at the anachronistic and geographical absurdities.

I think that was the first time I was called a "Philistine". I was

brian said...

My Mother has Altzhimers and cant remember much but she regularly brings up the bit about the dirty British coaster .Thanks for making it accessible to her in its entirety.
Regards Brian.

David.Davies said...

...but slightly Luddite. Past = beautiful, present = ugly. Perhaps Masefield
could have learned to love the industrial revolution

Chris Hayes said...

It's been many, many years since a wonderful old English teacher had the
class I was in learn this gem off by heart. I can still recall him
emphasizing the impact of certain words in the poem and eventually causing
me to fall in love with it.

Thanks for the memories the poem brought back.

- rgds, Chris
PGP public key @
Ama et fac quod vis -- St. Augustine

Steve Harrison said...

THIS poem was the centrepiece of a Guardian crossword a couple of years ago. I wish I'd been a net-head then - I wasn't, and I'd never read the poem either, so I had a tough time completing a puzzle where half the answers were words and phrases from a deliberately disparate set of exotic nouns...

Tomcassidys said...

Having learned this poem in my childhood days, from the radio for schools
programme in glasgow in the early 60's, I was surprised some years later to
hear an older colleague I knew in Sheffield, singing it out one day. He
seemed very surprised that I knew this poem or is it just that the classics
are taught for a little longer in Scotland. Shame they stop teaching such
classics as these in the first place

jenian said...

I had forgotten that I knew this until my sister-in-law rang me and asked if I remembered a poem that had "???? from Nineveh"as its first line. It fascinates me that a simple question like that resulted in my saying "Cargoes". I didn't know that I knew - what a testament to an English teacher in the 60s who instilled a love and appreciation of poetry. Also, what a reaffirmation that the memory is an amazingly coplex computer.

Thank you for putting this on your website. I searched for "poem cargoes", and there it was!

COLDVC said...

Thank you for posting this poem and the other people's posts in this web
page. I am currently taking an AP English class and I have been assigned a
peotry project. We had read "Sea Fever" in class and I knew that I had to
write about him and give him credit where it was due. John Masefield I mean.
"Cargoes" was the only poem that I could not find other people's analysis or
secondary sources from. I would like to thak all of you very much for your
comments and I hope to get an A!!


TelesMom said...

I had a great time reading the comments on this poem on your website! Just
thought you would like to know that Cargoes is still taught - we teach it to
5th graders at our school here in Florida. When they first look at it they
think we are joking - then they begin to equate it to the history they have
learned and end up loving it!

E. Miller

fiona mcgarry said...

i learned this poem in a from set to music in a bbc schools radio series called "singing together " in the 60s .... i have never forgotten the exotic, evocative words - although i never really knew (nor cared at the time ) what they meant ... i had cause to search for it recently - half remembered ... and was delighted to find it here. what joy! what meaningless, delightful, twaddle!

Brian Probert said...

Thinking about Iraq today and of Nineveh, the phrase "Dirty British
coaster" sprang to mind which, via a quick google, brought me to your
excellent site.
This poem brings back my best and worst memories of English Lit at
school. Best feelings first - the powerful images and the phrases which
I can recall 40 years later. However, basically I have always loathed
nostalgia and the very idea of having "classics" and a "canon" gives
English Lit an inbuilt bias towards the past - particularly with works
like this which purport to be descriptive but, on the face of it, appear
to be totally false. Why not galley slaves, yellow fever and Oriana
cruising the Caribbean?
Or is Masefield really nostalgic at all? There's so much dynamism and
energy in the last verse. Does he really love that steamer dirt and all?
Or is he, perhaps, implying that life at sea has always been harsh and
parodying others who have romanticised it? Probably not.

BillBarker123 said...

I learned this poem while in school in England some 68 years ago. It
became partially lost in my memory over the years. THEN! I put the forst
stanza in GOOGLE and was reunited with a favourite of mine. It was put
to music and that's where I learned it as a choir boy in school. The
last verse was treated to a constant accelerando

Addy John said...

Please read the disclaimer at the bottom of this e-mail

Has anyone observed the similarity of Masefield's 'Cargoes' and W. Clark
Russell's poem 'Dance's Tea-Fight'? Russell's appeared in 'The Turnpike
Sailor or Ryhmes on the Road' published in 1907. When was Cargoes' written?
Did Russell copy Masefield or the other way round? Here's the poem:

Did you ever hear tell of old Commodore Dance,
Who frighten'd Linois' heavy warships of France?
Over the sea, full of bohea,
Silk worth in fathoms whole lakhs of rupee.
Curios in ivory, cages of cockatoo,
Monkeys so ill-bred they jibber and mock at you.
Turban'd Hindoo, chairs of bamboo,
Calicoes, dimities, groceries too;
Hubbie-bubbles and curry for greasy ragout,
Christian and Musselman, Parsee and Jew.
Here was a bag for that canny Mossoo!
lndigo, capsicum, joss from John's churches,
China plate, silver birds strutting on perches;
Masks and fans, pots and pans woundily fine,
Camphor and betel to make the teeth shine;
Birds'-nests for soup-drinkers, puppies for potting,
Skulls for museums, all grinning and rotting.
Nankeen, musk, arrack, dried apples to stew,
Malt and spruce essence to flavour the brew.
Never again would Crapeau get the chance
That was his when invited to drink tea with Dance.

Your comments would be welcomed. Regards - John

gerry walther said...

how can I find the music for Cargoes?


Sally Mort said...

Thank you too for this poem. I have been trying to find it for a long time as I too loved the words and remembered some of them from my school days. I didn't really believe I would find this on the Internet and am very grateful!


Victoria, Australia

Ivan & Alison Pearce said...

Like several other people I have search many times for this poem that I learnt at school. Still love it. Thanks for making it available.
Ivan Pearce


I remember the last days of loading coal on the Tyne - perhaps the late
sixties. The Tyne coal staithes are still there, out of use, but the delightful
poem lives on to remind us of days gone by.

Jtthurmond said...

Masefield's Cargoes remains a favorite of mine after over a half
century. Thanks for the posting, Rice! My sole negative comment was
already made by Blazio, on the misuse of quinquereme, though I'm not
quite the Philistine he is. For whoever queried on Ophir, it's a
legended place of fabulous wealth in Scripture, hence its use for mines
out west, and more than one town, mostly now ghosts.

I'll point out something others seem to have missed in general
interpretation. The first stanza is all luxury goods and set in a
slave-based culture. Real quinqueremes did not use slave rowers, but a
merchant galley might well have. The second is almost wholly
pillage-based, even the moidores, largely from the Spanish exploitation
of the Americas. The third, prosaic as it sounds, is all of goods with
general utility, standing for the democratization of commerce.

Peter Herbert said...

I was recently asked by my grandchildren of my earliest memories of learning poetry at school and I was able to remember the first verse of "Cargoes" which I learnt over 60 years ago. This prompted me to seek the remaining verses and I was most pleased to find them on your site. I was soon able to relearn them. Many thanks.

Peter from Colchester.

SandySpencers said...

My mother used to recite this to me when I was small (among other poems) and
the only bit I could remember was 'Dirty British Coasters' which shows what
young minds grasp! Many thanks.

Jean-Pierre Berbille said...

Oui, "Cargoes" est un poème magnifique.

Je l'ai découvert il y a plus de trente ans, in 1962, may be, mais je l'apprécie toujours autant, je le lis à voix haute, la musique des mots est magnifique, et engendre des rêves, as most of the commentators say, even the Philistine, who set up interrogations about to know if a quinquireme was able to join Nineveh by sea or not, interesting remarks, yes, which I would have been unable to set when listening to this poem for the first time.

Se poser la question de la vérité historique au sujet de ce chef-d'oeuvre est un sacrilège...

Merci pour votre site

Jean-Pierre Berbille

Jean-Pierre Berbille said...

[Translated using Babelfish]:

Yes, "Cargoes" is a splendid poem. I discovered it there is more than
thirty years, in 1962, maybe, but I appreciate it always as much, I read
it with high voice, the music of the words is splendid, and generates
dreams, as most of the commentators say, even the Philistine, who set
up interrogations about to know if a quinquireme was able to join
Nineveh by sea or not, interesting remarks, yes, which I would have been
unable to set when listening to this poem for the first time.

To put the question of the historical truth about this masterpiece is a

Thank you for your site.

Jean-Pierre Berbille

F2conceptx said...

So thrilled to find this exotic poem on your website because I had forgotten
some of the words.. I have been searching on and off for nearly a year with no
success until today. This is a poem set to music that we sang at our High
School Christmas Show ,forty years ago in Jamaica,W.I. We felt so special as we
sang those fancy lyrics on stage but besides that the words seem to transfer us
to far away wishes, .b.r.h.

Claire Davison said...

I can also report that this poem is being taught in schools here in the UK -
it is a challenging work in that a fair number of the words are esoteric but
I see from the numerous e-mails that this was the factor that has made it
memorable for so many.
I agree with the commentator who remarked that it cannot simply be nostalgic
(wistful, perhaps) and that there is a sense of the goods transported in the
'Dirty British coaster' being of more practical use to more people than
those mentioned earlier.Perhaps, Masefield liked to hang on to his nostalgic
images while also acknowledging(however obliquely) that the ugliness of
modern trade had its benefits for the "man in the street".It's certainly
easy to spot tensions in the earlier two stanzas between the beauty of the
goods transported and human suffering in the background.Or perhaps the
message is that trade is always a dirty business that takes on a patina of
romance only with the passage of time?
Anyway, thanks for the poem and all the interesting comments.
CSD, Hampshire.

HFlyingpoodle said...

Like many others I heard this poem at school around 35 years ago. It was
given such expression by my teacher that I never forgot it. Being from the
industrial north, I felt quite proud of the dirty British coaster as evidence of
energy and drive and toughness. The poem seems to drift from a warm, hypnotic
tempo into a sharp "butting" pace! I love it!

Michael TIPPLE said...

Hello Valerie,
did you ever find the music for GARGOES ?. I have been searching high and low, but to no avail. Please can you help??
Kind regards,

Michael Wilson said...

As member of Bridlington Writers' Group, I've been asked to read a sea poem at Sewerby Hall in Bridlington in April 2004. I wanted to "do" this one. I didn't know it by heart and was relieved to first it first try with "Cargoes" poem. And this is the first time I've looked on the net for a poem. Normally I trudge down to the library.

From Mike Wilson

Jane Knox said...

Add my name to the list who learnt this off by heart for a fierce English teacher abroad 40 odd years ago. I was picked on to recite the 3rd verse and NEVER forgot it. I stayed up all night practicing and to this day can recite it by heart - a brilliant poem. Thanks for adding this. Jane

Lois951 said...

I loved this poem. I have to write a paper on it for English 10 Honors, and I
was trying to find some kind of literal translation for it, but it seems to
be already written in a literal sense. I see some people learned this years
before I was born which is wierd because I love poetry but had never heard of
this until now.


Justin 15 in 2004

YIZTHA said...

The times i have served on ships like those described as "DIRTY BRITISH
COASTERS"...from 1963 to late....but alas never coastal, allways long and deep

Cliff Young said...


thanks for printing this poem. I'm reading the Alexander trilogy by Valerio Massimo Manfredi at the moment and the word quinqueremes comes up qiute a bit in the third book, and this was bugging me as I seemed to know it. Then hey presto you web site and a peom I learnt in primary school over forty years ago. Thing is i seem to remember singing or chanting it to a tune. Does that ring any bells with anyone.

Thanks for the site.

Cliff Young

Booth Anthony said...

Wonderful and so reminiscent of my childhood primary school about fifty
years ago. I could not remember the title or even how to spell Quinquerine,
but keyed in 'Dirty British Coaster' and there she was, butting through the
channel like it was yesterday.

Thank you so much for the reminder of "Cargoes".

Stuart Booth
Plant Design and Piping
BECHTEL, Houston, TX.

Andrew Clayton said...

Its a great favourite with many, me included. I would be interested to see if jean-pierre berbille could translate it into french! I have had fun with this poem many times thinking up really modern verses to finish it off, involving cross- channel car ferries and super tankers! Its actually scattered across the net in a number of sites.
Andy Clayton.

Tony Seaton said...

I remember well the reading of this poem by the Headmaster at my primary

Old, Yorkshire Willy Bleasdale (Mr Bleasdale, or 'Sir' to us then)
emphasised the difference between the tone of the verses with the rhythm
and intonation with which head read each verse:

The first - Quinquireme... - slow, smooth, sedate;

The second - Statetly ... - with the stately beat of the long oars;

The last - Dirty British Trawler - with that dogga-dogga-dog sound of
dirty, diseased, Diesel-powered engines.

I have since come to appreciate the deeper levels of the verse, but as a
teacher myself now (albeit of ICT rather than English) the poem still
serves to remind me of the differing styles of presentation which
communicate the same concepts to pupils with differing thought patterns.


Tony Seaton

Wallace Hasker said...

Approximately 50 years ago when as Jean Guthrie I was in the choir at Allerton High School, Yorkshire we had a musical evening to celebrate an anniversary of the school and were taught this lovely poem which was put to music.
This morning while sitting at the window as Jean Hasker in Victoria Canada and looking out at the choppy waters a purposeful tug came into view. The last verse of this song came flooding back and then to find it all on the Internet was a wonderful surprise. Thank you very much for posting it.

Harald Lenthe said...

My Name is Harald Lenthe (Harold) from Hannover/Germany. I was looking for
a woman named Sally Mort in the Internet. I met Sally first time in Israel
in the year 1980. I met her again in Guatemala Central America two Years
later. So now i am trieing to find out where she is living now. Sally is
originally from England. So if this Sally Mort, appearing on the Page with
the poem, is the Sally I am looking for, she might answer this request.
Thanks a lot . Harald

Joy Rowe said...

Thanks for putting this poem on the web. I spent all day trying to fit the odd words into the poem. Learned it at school but couldn't remember all of it.

Mike G salah said...

my name is lisa.....i am not a perfectionist is poem and i need your help trying to understand this poem Cargoes......i need to know the imagery, main theme,literart devices and emotional effects of this poem.....i would really appreciate your help

wendy salisbury said...

Wonderful. I also did it at school then heard it on Radio 4 this afternoon. Halfway through listening with nostagic fascination, much to my annoyance my mobile rang. I came straight home and found your website and am delighted to have rediscovered Cargoes again. I shall read it to my grandchildren so they should learn rhythm and stanza.

Thank you.

Wendy Salisbury

Adrienne Allen said...

This is a wonderful poem for a voice choir recitation. Get a group of
people together and work on it! I was eleven years old when introduced to
this by a good teacher.

mehta said...

Google is a wonderful thing. I leared this poem 45 years ago in English
class in my high school in Bandra. I had forgotten what it was all about
and only remembered the words "Dirty British Coaster". I typed them into
Google and right away the poem popped up.

Cyrus R. Mehta

Brock Erickson said...

This poem was set for choir by Henry Balfour Gardiner in a part-song publish
by Novello in 1912. Performed October 14 & 16 2005 by St. Martin's Chamber
Choir ( in its concert "England Expects...", a
celebration of the 200th anniversary of Nelson's victory at Trafalgar.

dave said...

A few merry mechanics down the pub on a Friday night talking about poetry some one mentioned Dirty British Coasters. The memories of school came flooding back. I spoke to GOOGLE . I will be a hero next friday

Kc2965 said...

The finest poem that I have ever read.

The first two elements are spoken in flow and calm with a lyrical tilt.
That of a Rowing powered vessel with the drummers cadence. No whips. Just a
promise of safe haven at home in sunny Palestine.

That of a Sailing ships under calm but effective directional winds and
loaded with fine wares.

The third element is to be read with the cadence of a chugging engine.
Try it and you will see what the Magnificent Mr. Masefield so eloquently
conveyed to us.

Dir_ ty Brit_ ish Coaster
With a salt_caked smoke_stack
But_ ting through the Chan_ nel in the Mad_ March_ Days

So beautiful and brilliant.

Lynda Cuthbert said...

Just like others, it reminded me of school, but I could never remember all the words. Went looking for it because of a crossword answer which was Nineveh and I knew it was used in this poem.

Saying it out loud it has the rhythm of a ship's engine and you can imagine it chugging along.

allen & heather said...

hi there.........


enjoyed the 'comments' from everyone almost as much as the poem!

my thoughts are similar to others.........

my grandparents in victoria, b.c., canada, had the poem in a frame in their house.
my grandfather loved the poem and gave his daughter [my mom] a dollar if she'd memorize it, which she did. she gave me a couple of dollars to do the same when i was a kid. i did the same with my 3 kids.

we were reminiscing about it recently. their memories are better than mine and i had to search it on the web to clarify the exact words. it was hard to track down at first, but thanks to you, i found it!

allen willoughby

Michael Barber said...

Thanks from me also for reciting this poem on your web site. It is a poem I learned at school and (like most probably) could only remember the first line of verses 1 and 2 and then wrongly which kept sticking in my head sad I know but now I can revel in my own nostalgia.

Michael Barber

Bob Beattie said...

My thanks for posting the poem I memorized 50 years ago but forgot, like
many, all but the British Coaster(s).

Vive l"internet!

fred cook said...

I used to listen to poetry ever week at school read by our head master. I have searched for "Cargoes" (until today I didn't know the title name) for many years, all that remained in my memories was "dirty British coaster butting through the channel in the mad March day's". I have enquired in libraries, book stores and my wife who is a "book worm" has also looked to no avail. It only occurred to me today to use a search engine on the web and type in what I could remember about the poem. I thank you for brightening up my day.

Fred Cook

Caroline Hermes said...

I've just read your comments on "Cargoes" by John Masefield, and I enjoyed your thoughts very much.
I also had this poem taught to me at school (thank you Mr Jones) and was so glad to be able to read it again. I was at a primary school at Northam, which is about 60 miles from Perth, Western Australia, in the 60's.
You mention another poem, maybe "The Falcon", which reminded me of another poem that Mr Jones also taught us, and I loved, "The Eagle." Was this the one you meant?
It went something like" He clasps the crag with crooked hands/ Close to the sun in lonely lands/ Ringed by the azure world he stands."
Isn't it funny how one teacher and one poem can stay in ones mind for so long? What an impression it made.

My 17 year old son is studying journeys, and I suggested he used this poem (Cargoes) to illustrate the theme.
best wishes

Atkinson patrick said...

I learnt this poem by heart 65 years ago at Chessington Secondary School. I wanted just to make sure of the words,
I wasn't far out, except for gold moidores.
How about the poem by N.P.Willis - "Wine", a very old poem. Or the poem by Allan Cunningham 1784 - 1842, "The Mother's Call", plus plenty more from me Grandfarher's book.
Patrick F. Atkinson.

Ian Hocking said...

Sailing on a Cruise Ship up the Channel the poem came to mind but I was
unable to recall all the verses just "Dirty British Coaster" - what would
John Masefield have made of the enormous floating cities ?

Kathy Hocking


today is my husbands 80th birthday andsomehow the breakfast conversation got round to quinquireme of nineveh, he learned and loved the poem in the 1930's in scotland and i learned and loved it in the 1950's in england. ...........i was always struck by the fact that other countries had spice and gold while we had cheap tin trays.
thankyou for putting it on the net.


Melanie Kosh said...

So glad to have the words on this poem again.I attended an oversubscibed,rough school in The Midlands.Fortunately,the head introduced us to poetry and music at a young age
We used to sing the first two verses.The last verse was both sung and spoken.This was performed by 40 children together.He always conducted us using his cane.The first two lines of the last verse were emphatically spoken en masse.The last 2 lines were sung.
I wonder what the tune was?
Best wishes
P.S.There is something very,very special about this poem

CheneyGlen said...

I was emptying my dishwasher and there were a bunch of tinware - pizza
dishes and bunpans - cheap because most of them had been bought in the local
dollar store - waiting to be stacked in the cupboard, and the words "dirty British
coaster with a saltcaked smokestack and a cargo of tin trays"
came to mind. I had to stop and find the poem on the internet. In the instant
that Google found several references, I went from northern USA to a village
school in Yorkshire 50 years ago where we learnt poems like Cargoes, daffodils,
Kubla Khan.

The ship was surely coal powered and not diesel, hence it being dirty.

I remembered the Spanish Galleon, but thought that there was another verse
about a modern liner or freighter.

Tim Brett said...

I learned this poem in primary 7 and that would have been about 30 years ago
and I loved breaking it all down and scrutinizing all the different images
it evoked then. I have never forgotten the teacher I had then who instilled
in me a love of all things literal and I am still an avid reader and loves
poems to this day and I have now shown this poem to my own children and
asked them to describe the images it conjured up for them.
Thank you so much for bringing it to the internet and accessible to everyone again.

bobscott said...

I believe I learnt this poem at grammar school in the late '40s but it may have been earlier.
I recall it with immense nostalgia and affection. I love its passing from the mysterious atmosphere
of Nineveh, to the renaissance romance of the Caribbean and the modern romance of the Channel.
Thank you. I remembered nearly all of it and now I have it all.
Incidentally, I hardly feel that any historic "errors" have the slightest importance when the whole is
capable of giving so much pleasure
Bob Scott - Tuscany

Laurence Gardner said...

'Cargoes' conjures up the most exotic aura .. loved it as a child
without understanding it and delight in it now.

Sue Desbois said...

I remember this poem from my school days in Chichester, West Susses in the
UK. My English teacher was passionate about Masefied and de la Mare - in
fact he was a friend of hers. I smile when reading - dirty British
coasters, etc. I now live in South Africa and have fond memories of those
(distant) days.

Sue Desbois
ALR Recruitment

Annatrope said...

Interesting !!...As the vessels and Eras evolve, the cargoes become less
"fantastic" and more "commercial". We go from the "ivory, apes and peacocks" of
Ancient times to the "gold, spice and gems" of the Spanish Conquest, and
finally the "cheap tin trays" of the Modern Age. ...I love the changing meters
that echo the "glide" of the Quinquereme, the "rolling" of the Galleon, and
the "putt-putt-putt" of the Coaster!

Anna McD.. .

ShirleyKenson said...

It was great to find this poem again - it took me back to growing up in England. I'm sorry that the quinquireme didn't exist at the same time as Nineveh. In any event, I always thought it sounded so exotic with a cargo of apes and peacocks. Since most of you obviously had the same poems I did, I might call your attention to a couple of great ones - The Ice-Cart by Wilfred Gibson and The Forsaken Merman by Mathew Arnold. These stand out from many years ago together with The Ancient Mariner. I also love the W.H. Auden eulogy which was used in Four Weddings and a Funeral. Shirley Kenson, San Juan Capistrano, California

Paul said...

I have always been able to recite "Cargoes", having been required to learn it at school, and I have always loved it. I have a personal cerebral anthology of about twenty English classical poems, but this one occupies a special place.
I have a suggestion as to an effective public performance of the work, which I believe would encapsulate what Masefield actually had in mind as he wrote it.
I would appoint John Hurt to read the first verse. The gravel in his voice would, I think, bring a certain emphasis to the sheer labour involved in propelling such a craft.
Next, I would appoint Stephen Fry for the second, whose lofty eloquence would lend an Anglicization to the "Stately Spanish Galleon" mental concept.
Finally - and here I think Masefield was trying deliberately, to draw a comparison between the seemingly casual approach to trade adopted by those from warmer climes, and the British, unattractive, hard-working image, hampered by bad weather. Since "Tyne Coal" is featured, it could be none other than Jimmy Nail.
Do I have an original idea here, or has somebody already suggested it?
Best wishes Paul Mayers

Elizabeth Haley said...

Just found this poem on the interenet. Came to my husband and I as we have been staying in an area renowned to its pig iron, Runswick Bay and surrounding districts on the North East Coast of England. Both of us learnt it at school 60 plus years ago and just rembered parts like "tugging through the channel with a cargo of".....

Wonderful to find it and realise how beautiful it is. Many thanks.


Plowman Don said...

My father who is 84 today has quoted this line of poetry to myself and
my wife and daughters and reflected on learning this poem at primary
school in the 1920's at Bendigo in the state of Victoria in Australia
but couldn't remember who the poet was.

It was one of his favourite poems at school and can still recite the
first verse and now you have helped us find the remaining verses so he
can relearn it!


* Don Plowman

Louise Booth said...

I too was delighted to find this site with the poem. My mum, like one of the others who commented, has Alzheimers. She's been an avid poetry lover all her life, and while I was reading some of her favourites to her she'd often come out with the lines word perfect. I too learned it about 50 years ago, and all I could remember of the words was "Quinquiremes of Nineveh", and something about coal boats chugging, and the way the rhythm fitted the ships perfectly. She'll be as delighted as I to have found it again. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Now all I have to do is track down the music version!

Louise Booth

Bruce Dodd said...

I learned this poem in high school in Toronto about sixty-five years
ago. Our teacher was at great pains to point out the different cadences
appropriate to the type of vessel and its era. I often recall it - and
recite bits to my granddaughters, who learn no verse at school - as I
keep an eye on the ships that pass in front of our cottage on the
Lawrence Seaway.
In the 1950s in Canada we had a very witty, funny, and popular
broadcaster named Max Ferguson who, under the pen-name "Rawhide", did
his own irreverent versions of plays and poems. His version of the
dirty British coaster stanza ended up carrying "...and Lister Sinclair's
plays". Mr Sinclair and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation were said
to be outraged

Lily Byron said...

Hello! I was visiting a nearly 90 year old friend tonight, recently
registered blind. She was saying that people are always asking her if
she's lonely or bored. Never! When she's tired with trying to see to
read, she lies back and goes over poems and quotations that she
learned as a child." Cargoes" was one but she got stuck on one line.
However her cousin managed to find it on the internet and the minute
she got the word "Diamonds" she was away! This is why teachers (I used
to be one) must never stop encouraging youngsters to learn poetry,
bible quotations etc. It means a lot to people in their old age and
also to people (eg Brian Keenan , Terry Waite etc)in captivity with
nothing to occupy their time but what they have in their heads. L B

Victoria Harwood said...

Dear Andrew,
I have a fourth verse for you, watch this space!

Sending this from a friend's machine, will send from my own email later.

David Eccles said...

Dear Andrew,

How about giving us a few of your "fourth verses" ?

May I contribute: Square, top-heavy ferry boats grind between the Channel Ports
Super-market trolleys these for those that hate the sea,
With a cargo of cars that go
Rolling off and rolling on,
No more Art and Culture Monsieur, where's the Duty Free ?

You sound like someone who is into Parody (?)
May I reccommend "The Faber Book of Parodys"
Edited by Simon Brett
1984 ISBN 0-571-13254-5 Pbk

Best regards David E

Julian Whybra said...

Cargoes John Masefield
The penultimate line is mistyped. The original reads 'Road-rail', which sounds better without the 's', don't you think?
Julian Whybra

Marie said...

Thank you for putting this poem on the internet.
It is one of my earliest childhood memories, my grand-
father used to recite it to me when I was about 3 and
strangly enough, I remembered the galleons, the jewels,
the dirty coaster and that there was the word cargo.
I couldn't believe it when I found it first go.
The poem is so evocative that it stayed in my mind for
50 years.
We never had it in school as I went to school in a German
speaking country.
Kind regards

aidan.cox said...

Sitting with tears in my eyes...

oh the memories that these words evoke

the 3rd verse in particular and the references to the chugging engine
cadence. I can remember clear as day my English teacher Miss Toberty 39
years ago chanting the words out and saying "u can almost feel the winds
and the waves of a windy March day and the sea battering the hull of the
dirty british steamer as it charges throught the sea..."

Oh Miss Toberty, wherever u are today I salute u. u single handedly (well
with the help of Mr Mansfield) inspired something in the breast of that
raggedly dressed, runny nosed, dirty kneed geordie working class kid and
imbued in me a love of words and learning that has served me to this very
day and given me and my family everything we have.


Aidan Cox

Colin Clarke said...

So nice to know I am not the only one to remember this poem from school days - where I first heard it over 60 years ago - and reading it again made me think 'Am I really this old' !! Oh, well, there you go. Thanks for happy memories.

Robert Crick said...

*Broken-backed giant with a flag of convenience *

*Ploughing through the oceans with a skeleton crew,*

*And containers full of diapers, *

*Cat food, motor-bikes,*

*Foil-wrapped biscuits and a training shoe.*

Wreckage of the Napoli, rusting on a sandbank,

Luring loads of tourists to the coffee bars,

With a global market cargo of

Anti-aging moisturisers,

Empty wooden barrels and some big posh cars.

Poisonous polluter on the Heritage coastline

Killing off the coral and the breeding birds

With a cargo of nickel bars,

Bibles, drive-shafts,

Personal possessions and sump-oil turds.

Paula Smith said...

I have often thought of 'Cargoes' following my days at school and was delighted to reacquaint myself with it online and read the comments posted, which I see have been given over several years! I learned this poem about 30 years ago whilst in the school choir - we also sang it to music as I see others above did too. I have never forgotten the first verse but always stumbled over the rest. Again, I think it was the unfamiliar vocabulary that intrigued me at the time of learning it, and helped me to remember it all these years. It is especially nostalgic to me as the school I attended - La Sagesse Convent High School in Jesmond, Newcastle Upon Tyne - has now closed (and is, I might add, now being used as the latest set for the children's programme Tracy Beaker!!!) which adds a tinge of sadness to times gone by. Nevertheless 'Cargoes' will no doubt stay with me always, and I hope to pass it down to my children when the time comes.

Vivien said...

I remember singing this at school. I think it was in the "Singing Together" lessons which were broadcast on the radio, maybe the Home Service. I have often wished I had kept those song books that were issued to us, they were full of lovely old songs, mostly victorian I should think.

Anonymous said...

To whoever was looking for a poem called The Falcon - I think this may have been Gerard Manley Hopkins' "The Windhover", which starts (to the best of my memory) "I saw this morning morning's minion, dapple-dawn-drawn falcon ..." and after that my memory fails me.

Hilary HSI

Unknown said...

I have an old friend who is trying to find a poem he learnt in school a long time ago. I think it starts off:

I wonder where the ships all go
That go away to sea

Does anybody recognise it?

Susan Visvanathan said...

My sister used to recite this poem to me endlessly when I was ten, and she was 13. I always thought Quinquereme was a kind of incese like myrrh, so 43 years later, I checked it on google, and brilliant! I'm part of a community that recites this poem or part of it in their the places, don't remember the last part though, and always thought it was Yeats who was the author.
Susan Visvanathan

Richard Peter Dunn said...

Following a change in my Facebook 'relationship status', I had a flood of questions, enquiries, commiserations. I then posted, 'From Vladivostok, from Sacramento, from Quinquireme in Nineveh, from distant Ophir, the messages have poured in...'. Not a single Friend has posted a correction...

Richard Peter Dunn
Cambridge, England

Anonymous said...


Lesley said...

From landlocked southern Alberta, in western Canada, I have found,since entering my sixties, an increased nostalgia for my youth and my home by the sea, in Sussex UK.
How comforting to find "Cargoes" and all its fans on this website. Thank you.
Lesley in High River, Near Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Michael said...

Our music teacher Peter Jameson taught us to sing this poem at Portsmouth Grammar School 39 years ago. The song has been running through my head for weeks but, of course I'd forgotten some words. Delighted to find them here. Thank you.

Here are two versions of the song but neither is the tune I remember from school :(

Anonymous said...

I remember singing this at school, I need this for a pub quiz which we do every thursday at Fanny's alehouse in Shipley West Yorks. This week the theme is naval . As many musical references to sailing/nautical. Cargoes is a poem, but it has been set to music, so I'm having it!!! hiya Steve if you find this!!!

Anonymous said...

this poem sucks really bad, I hated it a lot! Love Kristen Hooghiem

Sam Ayre said...

For some reason I can sing this poem. I'm 46 now and have know it for at least 30 of them. wierd! Love it though.

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John McCarthy said...

The first two verses of Cargoes tell about the exotic.
The third expresses pride in the "dirty British coaster
with a salt-caked smokestack" and led me to Google
"Masefield Dunkirk" which led to Masefield's 1940
book "Twenty-five days".

anniedes said...

It seems this must have been required reading or singing at school in the UK. It must have awakened something in me during those awkward, fledgling years at Primary School at Monument Hill, Woking, as it's the only poem/lesson I remembered and has stayed with me for the last 60 years! Finally, I decided to research it and found this delightful site and others that shared my memories. Thank you. I shall make an effort to relearn it.

Anonymous said...

I love this poem, the words stayed with me over the years but its only recently I found out about the moidores! I'm going to use this in my next calligraphy exhibition this December and the words will just flow off the pen....

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Anonymous said...

I too learned this poem as an 11 year old in Farnham, Surrey in the late 50's. My family was from the States and my father was on tempory assignment in Aldershot. Another poem that has stayed with me from that time is "From a Railway Carriage " by Robert Louis Stevenson . It also has a "movement" to it that like "Cargoes" is part of its' charm.

Anonymous said...

While visiting London with some of my grandchildren, I was telling them about the sips that would have come up the Thames, and trying to recall the types of cargoes they would have had. The poem came into my head to help me although I could remeber only a small amount of the first verse. I had recalled the quinquereme COMING DOWN THE AVON FROM sunny Palestine though. I din't remeber any of the other verses, which goes to describe me more as a lover of historical romance I suppose.

Jazzibear said...

This is a question, not a comment. I am very fond of John Masefield’s poem “Cargoes”, particularly the vivid imagery. I am familiar with all but one of the commodities: what precisely is/are road-rail/rails? With so many people around so much more knowledgeable than me, I hope that someone knows, and will tell.

Caroline Gill said...

For Addy John ... I believe Cargoes was published in/by 1902, so perhaps Masefield was first.

Anonymous said...

This poem is on a brass plaque set into the ground on the quayside in Cardiff Bay.

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Mentioned as remembered & sung by an old man & quoted in Saga's newsletter

It's on Youtube

If you are wondering about how the Quinquireme of Nineveh got to Palestine - it's by the Gulf of Aqaba.

IanD said...

"And Nineveh was an Assyrian city
in what's now northern Iraq... how could the ship be going home to
Palestine? "

The Gulf of Akaba gives access to Palestine.

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