Ballad of the Swabs

By George Sterling

The tale is of my grandsire
  And his good whaling-ship.
Back to Sag Harbor faring
  From his eleventh trip,—

A true man, a taut man,
With sea-blue eyes and bright.
  Three foot across the shoulders
And five foot five in height.

The Stout ship Thomas Dickinson
  Up from Rio rolled.
Eighteen hundred casks of oil
  Braced tight in her hold.

Two years out each man Jack was
  And ninety days to spare,
Wives and sweethearts waiting
  Starved love to share.

Block Island lay to starboard,
  Montauk lay to port.
"Damme! my bullies!
  Land's the place for sport.

"Rum's a mocker when 'tis served
  Only once a day,
With the brown Marquesas girls
  Half a world away.

"Now swab the deck, my hearties!
  Two hours will see us home
From toil and fluke and tempest
  And the night-reefs foam"

Out spake Billy Palmer,
  An Amagansett boy: "
Flense my butt if I crook arm
  At any such employ!

"To hell with oil and whalebone
  And all sea-faring men,
Till I and my dear Betty
  Ha" kissed and kissed again!"

They heaved the black swabs overboard
  And whistled a gay tune
Ahead they saw the Gardiner woods
  And Napeague's fine dune.

A kind man my grandsire was.
  But tougher than a spar,
None in all the whaling-fleets
  Cast the harpoon so far,

"Mr. Luce!" (the first mate jumped)
  "East sou'-east's her course."
The second mate swore heartily.
  Being weary of salt-horse.

Then rumbled Reuben Pcntlatch.
  The gloomiest of men:
"By hell's floor! is he plannin'
  To turn Cape Stiff again?"

Back to the Atlantic blue
  The ordered course was laid,
And both mates used familiar words
  Until new swabs were made.

Out of sight of land or spire.—
  Far from kith and kin.
Long they heard the creaking yards
  Speak of discipline.

Three full days they swabbed the deck
  With most painstaking care.
Till Dolly Madison herself
  Could ha' eat her supper there.

"Now west nor'-west's her course again,
  " My bull-necked grandsire said—
Twice as hot as any there
  For home and wife and bed.

Again they lifted high Mocuuk
  And low Block Island's sands;
But till they Saw the roofs of home
  Those swabs were in their hands;

And when the anchor rattled down
  In harbor water green,
Their blessed hearts were clean and wise,
  And the deck uncommon clean.

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