Thursday, 11 April 2019

...And Cheap Tin Trays

I love this little poetry book.
It says "Modern" Verse - but this anthology was compiled in 1921 - when the modern poets included Hardy, Brooke, Owen, Kipling and others. Printed in 1956, this is the 39th edition!
The student notes say "Some teachers may think a few of the pieces unsuitable to the youthful mind, but it is a mistake to give the young only juvenile verse or rousing ballads or edifying hexameters. Boys and girls dislike being written down to, and their taste should be fed and cultivated by the very best"
My Dad bought it when I was 4½, and  clearly agreed with that sentiment. From the beginning, I'd sit on his lap and he would read me poems, and as I got older, he'd encourage me to read them aloud to him. We would marvel at the words, the rhythms, and the rhymes  - and a dictionary was always on hand to explore new words [no Google back then]  One poem that quickly became a favourite when I was about 8 was Masefield's "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-rail, pig-lead,
Firewood, iron-ware, and cheap tin trays.
I loved Verse One for its biblical allusions [King Solomon received cargoes from Ophir, Jonah went to Nineveh etc] All mysteriously exotic
Verse Two was good because I'd just discovered the Tudors, I knew about Armadas and galleons, and that the Spanish had doubloons, while the Portuguese had moidores. And the word isthmus was so lovely to say. All that wealth
And then Verse Three- so gloriously ordinary - I'd seen the Channel [at Brighton] but in 1962 we moved up to West Hartlepool, so I knew about the coalmines of the North East, and the mighty River Tyne. After all the mellifluous vocabulary of the earlier verses, sailing through beautiful blue waters under sunny skies, this final verse was a list of staccato items, resolutely battling through the cold grey windswept waters, with a rhythm like marching soldiers. All so matter-of-fact
Dad and I would say the poem together, and cheerfully reach the last line, yelling in unison "...and CHEAP TIN TRAYS!!!"
One of the many joys of married life for me is that Bob also loves poems - including this one. One of our wedding gifts came in a little box labelled "Corn on the Cob set". Eight small forks. and four dishes, for serving c-o-t-c. The forks went, years ago- but I still have the small metal dishes. They are just the right size for serving a slice of cake, or a mug of tea and a biscuit, or a few crackers and a lump of cheese, a handful of sweets or grapes. They are in regular use. So all these years later, I can happily announce I have something from the cargo of each of the three Masefield ships - a jar of cinnamon, a diamond ring, and some cheap tin trays
Do you have a favourite poem? 
Did you learn any by heart in childhood?


  1. Oh thank you! I'd forgotten that poem and, like you, I enjoyed it as a child. It was "Dirty British coaster with a salt caked smoke stack" which I remembered most.

  2. That poem is one of the few things I remember from primary school along with Ducks Ditty and bits of Hiawatha

    1. My problem with Hiawatha is I remember bits of the parodies [eg "Hiawatha made some mittens, made them with the skin side inside"] and I am never sure which words are genuine Longfellow verses!

  3. I love poems! Good thing, too, because I had to memorize many of them in two languages for school! LOL!

  4. My mother taught me that poem when I was in junior school, she learnt it at school in the 1940s!

    1. If only more parents taught their children poetry...

  5. My Favourite poem is yours!! When in the first year at senior school we had to recite our favourite poem in a elocution competition, to my surprise I won.......the comment from the judges said I recited the poem with great feeling for the words........the prize... The Little Golden Treasury of Verse, Its a long time since I won it, but I still have it.

  6. Hiawatha was one that my mother used to recite to me, but my favourite was The Lady of Shalott, not strictly speaking a poem, but lovely nevertheless.

    1. Yes, the Lady of Shalott is indeed lovely, and JWWaterhouse's Pre-Raphaelite picture of her is gorgeous too!

  7. So glad to be reminded of this poem. cheers

  8. Cargoes is one of my favourite poems too - and I also have the "cheap tin trays"( minus the forks ) and cinnamon and a diamond ring but had never thought to associate them with the poem until now! Another favourite poem is High Flight by John Magee.

    1. I'd forgotten about 'High Flight' it is a beautiful poem


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