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, amythysts,
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.

by John Masefield

Other poems of MASEFIELD (44)

Comments (16)

I don't care how inaccurate the poem is. It just takes me to another place another time, and conjures up imager of far away shores, and then brings you back to our northern hemisphere climate with it's cruel seas with a completely different type of boat plying it's trade. The people who read too much into songs and poetry are to my mind trying to destroy dreams. These people should get a life!
Cargoes by John Masefield is a wonderful romantic view of ancient cargo in stanza one and two, described as being exotic exciting treasure contrasted with the modern cargo of stanza three, which is practical industrial dirty cheap and boring. Leonard Wilson is correct, a Spanish cargo containing all these jewels at once and gold moidores is extremely unlikely. The moidore is a Portuguese gold coin minted from 1640 to 1732. A Spanish cargo of mostly silver and far less gold ingots or cob coinage would be realistic. The first minted Spanish Gold Doubloons in the new world was in Mexico from 1732 but gold cobs were produced until 1750. The lines ‘QUINQUIREME of Nineveh from distant Ophir, /Rowing home to haven in sunny Palestine, ’ is historically impossible. Nineveh is an ancient Assyrian city and capital from 705 to 612 BCE. Roman Palestine is a term used from around the time of the birth of Jesus, but Palestine first appears as ‘Syria Palaestina’ on Roman maps in 132 CE when the ‘Emperor Hadrian changed the name of the province from Iudaea, Judea as it was called in Herod’s reign. The quinquereme is not a trading ship but a Hellenistic-era warship used extenively by the Carthaginians and Romans from 399 BCE but invented by Dionysius of Syracuse. John Masefield’s description of the cargo of Ophir, is from the earliest time period, in the reign of King Soloman 971-931BCE. Soloman received a cargo of gold, silver, sandalwood, precious stones, ivory, apes and peacocks from Ophir, every three years. At1 Kings 10: 22, it reads ‘The king had a fleet of trading ships at sea along with the ships of Hiram. Once every three years it returned carrying gold, silver and ivory, and apes and baboons.’ The translation of 'baboons' is rare, older translations have 'peacocks' instead. Therefore Masefield uses a mixture of historical periods to create a romantic cargo in stanza one. Soloman’s real trading ships may have included designs like Hatshepsut's Naval Vessels from the 15th Century BCE or may have been modeled after an Egyptian Naval Vessel of 1250 BCE. The early Phoenician trading ships of Soloman’s collaboration with Hiram of Tyre had ‘a keel, not ill shaped, a rounded hull, bulwarks, a beak, and a high seat for the steersman. The oars, apparently, must have been passed through interstices in the bulwark.’ The exports of Phoenicia are more romantic than any description Masefield describes, but it is the contrast of ships and cargoes which is Masefield’s purpose. Yet Phoenician smelting' or 'refining ships', hauling smelted ores from the mining towns in Sardinia and Spain shares a similar purpose to the ‘Dirty British coaster’.
Captures the idea, that things don't change much through the ages.
Cargo ship with a variety of valuables is quite interesting to read to know the history of the past splendour!
QUINQUIREME] Gally with five banks of oars.
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