Clipper Ship Cutty Sark is widely admired for her beauty and her stories have ignited the imaginations of millions.
Following last week’s blog on poetry inspired by Cutty Sark, we've looked into the Annual Reports of the Cutty Sark Society in the early 1970s, which featured poems sent in by friends and visitors. Drawing on the ship’s experiences at sea, her design, her record passages and final arrival in Greenwich, the following poems capture the ship’s life and adventures.
Cutty Sark by J. R. Barnard (Annual Report 1971)
Mr Barnard was a supporter of the ship and keen model maker, constructing a detailed scale model of the vessel.
In Greenwich now she rests, her battles won,
No more she’ll navigate the China run
And bring her fragrant cargo all her ways
To her home port of London. Ninety days
For fifteen thousand miles! The China Sea
The Indian Ocean, in the monsoon’s grip-
To South Atlantic sails that little ship.
Northwards she storms, the thousands fingered wind
Clutching at course and tops’l tightly pinned.
To doldrums then the racing clipper rides,
Reflections mirrored in the sluggish tides.
Inspired was Linton when those plans he drew,
Designs from which this lovely vessel grew.
Her hollow entry, lines so sweet yet strong,
With lightest breath of air she goes along.
The wind at last – on to the Lizard light-
A beat up Channel-and so ends the fight
And Englishmen can drink their cups of tea!
What glorious ships these racing clippers were-
What lovely sounding names- the Flying Spur,
Taeping and Ariel, Lahloo and Fiery Cross,
Thermopylae, Sir Launceot,-beauty’s loss
That these and many another gone before
Shall set their sails and reel their logs no more.
But Cutty Sark n’er proved that she could fly
The China run and beat Thermopylae.
Grand as she was, the Cutty’s frame was made
In Aussie wool-a far, far tougher trade.
Her yarns were shortened and her crew cut down
And still she sailed and won her great renown.
With Woodget in command the ship was driven
As she had never been. To her was giv’n
At last, the Captain such a ship deserved,
And each by other faithfully was served.
So now ‘twas seventy days to New South Wales
And home in eighty by the Cape Horn gales.
How she was sailed! Running her easting down
At seventeen knots and more – hers was the crown.
In high south latitudes her course was set;
Though she could use most winds that she could get,
Yet here ‘twas sometimes that her lovely sails
Burst from the bolt ropes by the raging gales
Of the great Westerlies that hurtle round the world
In forty south. Spume to her truck is hurled,
Main deck awash, on end for weeks and weeks-
There’s little here for him who comfort seeks.
Except the galley fire, no warmth, no heat,
This often out-only cold tack to eat.
The monstrous greybeards heaving up astern
To fright the wheel-lashed helmsman should he turn.
At last she rounds that grim ill-omened Cape
To fairer weather makes her safe escape.
Up both Atlantics, at her bows the foam,
To ort and safety brings her cargo home.
But when it proved that this run couldn’t pay,
To the seven seas she made her wandering way.
‘Anything to carry?’ was this proud ship’s request
As tot his menial service she was pressed.
Thermopylae, her useful service done,
Outside the Tagus was practice for the gun.
Since then for twenty years the Cutty plied
Her ignominious trade upon the tide.
She went aground, her rudder torn away,
Dismasted, and re-rigged a cheaper way,
And still she sailed as long as she could show
A rag of canvas to all winds that blow.
In World War One around the seas she tramped-
Through all disguise her quality was stamped.
Reduce her rig-paint ports along her side-
The beauty of her hull this could not hide.
To Falmouth then, by stress of weather came,
And Captain Dowman recognised her claim-
This poor bedraggled waif-this battered barque-
Not just a clipper, but the Cutty Sark!
He nobly bought her from the Portuguese,
Re-rigged her there to train the boys for seas.
Eventually to London she was towed,
And her mooring there for years she rode,
Missed by the deadly bombs of World War Two,
Doing her splendid work the whole war through.
Now in her own dry dock she proudly lies,
Her tall masts stepped and pointed to the skies.
Her rivals gone, her rigging taut and new,
Her hull displayed for all the world to view.
In Greenwich now she rests, her battles won.
Come and pay homage to her, everyone!
Cutty Sark, by W Miller (Annual Report 1972)
I’ve paced the decks of Cutty Sark,
And heard her timbers creaking still.
Looked from her shrouds to mainmast truck,
Touched her proud spirit, and sensed her will.
I’ve looked from prow of Cutty Sark,
Across an ocean’s heaving swell.
Seen all her working canvas set,
Heard yarns that only seamen tell.
I’ve walked the poop of Cutty Sark,
And for a moment took her wheel.
Seen the green mountains hard astern,
And braced myself against her heel.
I’ve sailed the seas in Cutty Sark,
And thus at last fulfilled a dream.
For though the seas were Greenwich Town,
I saw but ocean’s might abeam.
And down ‘tween decks of Cutty Sark,
Old seamen’s spirits wander still.
Shades of her long and glorious past,
Do every nook and cranny fill.
I’ve seen at last the Cutty Sark,
And sat at Captain’s table bare.
No fire burns within her grate,
Nor voices on salt-laden air.
She rests at last, the Cutty Sark,
Where all the world her crew can be.
And where a sailor’s heart can tell
Of glories under sail, at sea.
O loveliest clipper, Cutty Sark,
Could I but once have seen
You beating hard to windward,
I’d have had no cause to dream.
And yet in dreams, my Cutty Sark,
I see you sailing still.
For the years enrich your spirit,
As they glorify you will.
No more an ocean’s might to traverse,
Where above dark heaven’s weep.
But through the days and still of night,
A nation’s grateful memory keep.
What tales more wonderful to hear
Than those that touch the sea,
Of sailormen and sailing ships
Homeward bound with tea.
Yes, tell to me stories of shellbacks
Who have sailed o’er the earth’s seven seas,
And of small ships, and of tall ships
That have captured the wings of the breeze.
The Floating Shop, by John Close (Annual Report 1973)
John was a pupil of Kidbrooke Park JM School and aged 10 when he sent in this poem.
The Captain stood upon the bridge the mate and crew below,
The tide is right the breeze will blow,
So come my shipmates let us go
To foreign ports for jade and tea
So up the anchor and head for the sea.
The crew they sang as they hoisted sail,
They feared no rain nor wind nor hail,
These men were trained for the journey ahead,
The seas they knew but sometimes would dread
The terror of a raging storm when a mast
Would crack and sails would be torn.
The clipper sailed for days and nights,
And some wondrous sights did see –
The flying fish, the whale, the shark
The desert isle where one would embark
On a life of solitude – but not for this was she.
No, she was a trader – a floating shop,
A hive of life and she’d only one stop
To make before she was homeward bound once more
With goods and yarns to astound the landlubbers!
The port was sighted, the cry ‘Land Ahead’
Came down from the crows nest and the Captain said
‘Lower the mainsail, fasten her true,
Well done, men, you’re a worthy crew,
Stand by to unload, then our work is done,
At least for a while – then home with the sun.’
More Cutty Sark inspired poetry next week!