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Bill Thayer

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Life in Peru

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Life in a Man-of‑War

a Fore‑top-man

published by
Houghton Mifflin Company
Boston and New York

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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The Literary Tars
This site is not affiliated with the US Naval Academy.

 p91  Description of a Man-of‑War

Let some famed Poets sing of woman's charms,

Or tune their lyres to glorious deeds of arms —

How the famed Hector at the siege of Troy

Did with his single arm whole hosts destroy —

Or the beauteous Helena of old,

Who was the cause of Troy's dread war, we're told. —

No glorious, high-born damsel swells my page,

No gallant hero famed in battle's rage:

I in my humble sphere will move along —

A Man-of‑War the tenor of my song.

When morning's rosy tint first decks the sky,

Throughout the ship is heard the boatswain's cry,

Accompanied by his pipe, with thrilling sound —

"All hammocks up" does fore and aft resound;

This sound, which strikes so unpleasant on the ear,

And which the slumb'ring seaman hates to hear,

Is answered by each mate with voice quite deep

Enough to rouse the heaviest from their sleep,

Acts with a magic charm to put to flight

Those dreams of happy home and pure delight

That in his hammock hovers o'er the tar,

Though from that home he's separated far.

All now is noise and bustle round about,

Each sleeper quite reluctant turning out,

Swearing there is no light but from the moon,

And d–––––ing himself for being called so soon;

And many an imprecation is sent round,

That fore and aft the deck doth now resound,

Cursing each ship of war that sails the deep

Where they rouse men so early from their sleep,

And many an anxious wish is muttered o'er

That they'll soon see the fine long nights once more.

"Come, hurry up," the boatswain anxious cries,

And "hurry up" each echoing mate replies —

And one and all are lashing up quite fast,

To try, if possible, and not be last.

For well they know the master's mate will find

A job for that poor wight who lags behind,

With brick-dust and rags from morning until night,

Scouring the galley-pipe or stanchions bright;

 p92  Then e'en the laziest work with vigorous zest

To be as expeditious as the rest —

And in a rush up the ladders go,

'Till soon there's not a hammock left below.

The decks are cleared, and quickly now you hear

That sound which grates so harsh upon the ear,

'Tis thundered -of‑with quite a stern command:

"D'ye hear, there, get your holy-stones and sand!"

And at this mandate soon appears a crowd

Around the fore-hatch, with noise and outcry loud,

Cursing with many bitter new made oaths,

Calling the holders d–––––n'd infernal sloths, —

Who pocket those insults, slue the buckets o'er,

And move, aye slower than they did before,

"Come, come," an old sheet-anchor‑man cries out,

"Why don't you move yourself, what are you 'bout?

If you will keep us waiting in this way,

The decks will not get holy-stoned to‑day —

Just pass me the laniard, matie, that will do,

I see 'tis foolishness to wait for you!"

And dragging the stone he elbows through the throng,

Bitterly grumbling as he moves along.

Next a fore‑top-man pushes through the crowd,

Makes known his errand in a voice quite loud —

"What's come of all our brooms and our squilgees?

Just pass them up, old fellow, if you please:

Come, come, be quick, that's an obliging man,

Let us get done as soon as e'er we can."

"They're all adrift," the holder then replies —

"Indeed I thought as much," the topman cries:

"Some fellow has a spite, I believe, against us,

For 'taint the only time we've been served thus,

But if we once can catch him at that trick,

I warrant of such fun we'll make him sick."

Next after-guard and mizen-topmen come,

Whose voices are heard amongst the gen'ral hum,

Crying, "give us the bibles, do, some time to‑day,

For we're in a hurry to begin to pray!"​a

And venting their imprecations no way slow

Upon the inmates of the hold below,

Who with Job's patience see and hear it all,

And strict to their duty answer every call;

And spite of the noisy crowd that's standing by,

Each numerous want they quickly do supply. —

 p93  The decks are wet down, and soon are sanded o'er,

And all is now a scene of loud uproar;

Holy-stones harshly grinding o'er the deck,

Which must appear, when dry, without a speck —

Some wringing swabs, completely at their ease,

Whilst one spins a yarn the rest of them to please;

Others the paint work now commence to scrub,

To which they give a superficial rub, —

And to describe the bustle, outcry, noise

That fore‑and-aft is heard 'mongst men and boys,

I wish the immortal Marryatt were here,

For me, alas! the task is too severe.

The decks were soon done, the holy-stones put by,

"Quick, and wash down," is now the anxious cry;

The water along in steady streams doth pour,

The outcry is even greater than before,

And every one throughout the ship you see

As busy as he possibly can be;

The anecdote goes round, they crack their joke,

And merriment's in every word that's spoke, —

In fact, a livelier scene you scarce could behold

Than now appears amongst both young and old.

The scene doth quickly change, the decks are dry,

Squilgees, and brooms, and buckets are put by,

And every one by some endeavour strives

To pass the time till breakfast hour arrives.

The chequer boards are oft'times brought in play

To help to while this tedious time away;

And near the players, groups are standing by,

Watching the games with criticising eye:

Others more systematic you may view,

Cleaning some cutlass, monkey-tail, or screw:

While Morpheus' sons, under the awning's shade,

In the snug arms of sleep are safely laid. —

Seven bells have struck; you now perceive the boys

Dressing and cleaning with no little noise —

With shining face and nicely smoothened hair

They hurry on deck — the master-at‑arms is there

With cane in hand, and fierce and savage scowl,

Which to those youngsters augurs something foul;

"Come, toe the line!" this dreaded man he cries:

'Tis done — they dare not meet his hawkish eyes —

For God help the wight that does not suit this man,

He'll feel the effects of his severe rattan.

 p94  He overhauls them, arms, ears, face, and neck,

To see each part is clean, e'en to a speck.

And when found faultless, he calls each by name,

And to the officer reports the same.

Who glances his eye, his approbation shows,

Bids them dismiss, and thus this scene doth close. —

Eight bells have struck; you see each berth-deck cook

Hurrying along, importance in his look,

With scalding tea or scouse in either hand,

Elbowing all who in his pathway stand.

Breakfast is piped, the drum's inspiring roll

Is heard with rapture by each tippling soul,

Who in a hurry to the grog‑tub drives,

Impatient till his turn to drink arrives.

Amongst this crowd you hear the apt remark

On the great joys of drinking, by some spark

Who praises, in uncouth eloquence, the use

Of the enlivening bacchanalian juice,

And not one voice amongst this general hum

But what will praise the qualities of rum.

The grog is served out, each one is snugly sat

At his repast, in gay and friendly chat,

Whilst the consid'rate cook, with smiling face,

Presides o'er the mess with quite a matron's grace;

"Messmates," he cries, "mind, make no grease on deck,

For I've got orders, if I find one speck,

To report whoever makes it; so, you see,

If such a thing occurs, do not blame me."

"Quite right," they all reply, "no grease we'll make,

Whoever does, his licking let him take."

Hark! hark! the boatswain's pipe again doth sound,

And there is breathless silence all around,

Who loudly proclaims, with all his voice's power,

That they must clean themselves in breakfast hour;

White hats, white frocks, and trowsers, every one

Must now, in haste, before two bells, put on.

This order, which is hoarsely echoed round,

Is followed by a low and humming sound —

Some disapproving in a smothered voice,

Condemning now the first lieutenant's choice,

For ordering whites in weather such as this,

When good blue jackets would not be amiss.

A rush is then made upon the deck below,

And crowds, with their bags, are hurrying to and fro;

 p95  And o'er the gun‑deck, if you but glance your eye,

A motley scene of mirth you may espy;

"D–––––n all white clothes! cries one with sullen brow,

"It is almost a clincher with me now,

For 'mongst my panties, and I've no small cluster,

I cannot find a pair that's fit for muster,

And 'tis no use, when you're catched foul, to say

That you have had for weeks past no wash day;

No, no, that cock won't fight — when they tell you

That you must clean in white, or black, or blue,

Why you must raise the donnage; how or where,

As long's you've got it, dam'me if they care."

Look further forward, you a couple see,

The eldest dressing the other in great glee,

Whose pouting lips and sulky mien express

That he is not quite suited with his dress:

"This frock's not fit to wear!" the youngster cries —

" 'Tis good enough," the elder one replies;

"If you don't like it, you can let it be,

You will not get another one from me;

Come, stir yourself, you take quite long to dress,

Tie up the bag, and take it to the mess;

And if to‑morrow you are so inclined,

We'll part our bags; — then try if you can find

Another chummie, who will prove to you

As I have proved — as constant and as true —

And when I've taken all belongs to me,

Your bag will look quite lank and slim, d'ye see."

The youngster hears these facts without reply,

Packs all the clothes away, alert and spry,

And by the kind exchange of looks, 'tis plain

That those two worthies are good friends again.

Further along, just view that sailor there,

Whose clothes are spread with so much studied care;

He does not appear to be at all in haste,

But o'erhauls each frock to find one to his taste,

And like unto a modern man of ton,

He scarcely knows which garment to put on.

That covie standing next, with bag so small,

He has got scarcely any clothes at all;

But as he says, "he always is on hand

Whatever rig the captain may command,

And as for a bag so heavy, that's all stuff,

For to lug up and down, mine's load enough;

 p96  And show me the man, although my wardrobe's slim,

Can say that I've not always been in trim;

And tho' 'bout my clothes I don't kick up a fluster,

I ne'er yet was topped at quarters or at muster."

Thus pass'd the quick remark, the sarcasm sore,

Until the bags were stowed below once more;

And soon you might behold the pleasing sight

Of each one dressed in snowy, spotless white.

Look towards the galley; you perceive a crowd

Smoking and talking in a voice quite loud, —

With bright Havana or with humble pipe,

They puff away each meal-time in delight;

This is the frigate's news room, where you hear

Of all the events transpired both far and near —

Politics, stocks, the nation's rise and fall

Are here discussed with eagerness by all —

One, a Van Buren man, with might and main

Asserts that Martin will be chief again,

While the opposing party loudly say

That Harrison's the man will gain the day;

Our frigate's movement, too, they know full well,

When we will sail, these worthies quick can tell,

And if you're anxious e'en to ascertain

When we Columbia's shores will see again,

Just ask the smokers, they can tell you more

Then e'en the captain or the commodore.

Further along, between the guns, you see,

Smoking their "Spanish wrappers" in great glee,

A literary group of three or four,

Discussing the merits of so some novel o'er: —

"Have you read Marryatt's 'Phantom Ship' all through?"

Eagerly asks one of this book-learned crew:

"I have," is the reply, "and I must own,

In my opinion, it has not that tone

Of interest — nor the language half the zest.

Of Simple. Faithful, Easy, or the rest."

"You're wrong, there, mate!" another tar breaks forth,

"Your criticism is not of any worth;

Your brain's too shallow, and your mind too small

For you to judge of works like those at all.

I've read the books you speak of with delight,

And who such a thrilling work but him could write!

God knows, from time to time, we've had enough

Of 'Flying Dutchmen' and such sort of stuff;

 p97  But stale as that yarn is, his all‑powerful mind

Has with such feeling and such plot combined

The incidents, that many would look blue

If you but hinted that it was not true.

I'm sure I never thought 'twould come to pass

Have Marryatt's works reviewed by such an ass;

For, believe me, the gallant captain little thought,

When he launched forth those books with learning fraught,

That they'd be censured, and by such as you,

Amongst the smokers of a frigate's crew!"

Two bells have struck, the boatswain's pipe once more

Loudly proclaims the breakfast hour is o'er.

"All hands on deck," the master's mate now says, —

Each pipe's knocked out, they go their several ways.

The gun‑deck sweepers now are on the alert,

And with their swabs and brooms they move expert —

Each has his part allotted of the deck,

Which he must free from every stain or speck;

For should the first lieutenant's falcon eye

A part neglected by those sweepers spy,

They need not plead — it is of no avail —

Next morn he'll do them justice, without fail.

Hark! hark! the drum now beats — this thrilling sound

Causes a general bustle all around, —

And every one alert and spry doth run

To reach, with all the haste he can, his gun;

Ranged up in order, in a line they stand,

With glittering, burnished cutlasses in hand;

Each bosom palpitates, each heart beats high,

Fearing their officer's all‑searching eye

Should cast a disapproving glance on them,

And either their bright-work or their dress condemn;

Those who are faulty have one other chance

To undergo — the first lieutenant's glance —

Who will with patience their excuses hear,

And to each pleading lend a willing ear;

Some old sea‑lawyer may by dint of jaw,

Find in his accusation some small flaw

Which he will harp on — and with ready knack,

By dint of speech, may this time save his back.

Others, who're thus arraigned day after day,

Patiently stand, and not a word will say,

Knowing that their excuses are in vain,

For they have made them o'er and o'er again.

 p98  Now, then, the decks present a busy scene,

Mechanics, artists, every gun between —

All are engaged at business of some sort,

E'en from the pantry to the bridle-port.

First on the starboard side we'll glance around,

For on the gun‑deck, the larboard's sacred ground,

No speck of dirt must on that side be made,

For, like our Broadway, 'tis the promenade

Where you, in port, may see the beauteous fair

Moving along, with quite celestial air,

With some "gallant Lothario" of our ship,

Imbibing each word that drops from beauty's lip.

And, with the eloquence of Neptune's son,

Describing the movements of each pond'rous gun:

But to the starboard-side, just cast your looks

Upon that screen that's pendent from the hooks,

And oftentimes proceeds from there such din

As makes you wonder what there was within;

This is the middies' school — how much they learn

I leave for abler judges to discern:

But let it not be thought that I have meant

That their professor is not competent;

No such a thing — we all are well aware

That his abilities are bright and fair,

And tho' but young, his tact and skill to teach

Hundreds, more vain, their life-time would not reach.

Between the other guns there's much more noise,

It is the school for our apprentice goys,

Who round the tables sit, with roguish smile,

Their minds intent on other things the while. —

Whilst their efficient tutor's standing near,

To be engaged in study all appear;

You see them with their pencil, slate, and book,

With downcast eyes and solemn, studious look,

But the first moment he withdraws his glance

They then commence to caper and to prance,

And in the skylark, pencil, book, and slate

Are all forgot, with fun they're so elate.

The Barber's shop will next attract your view,

Where you perceive a pleasant, motley crew,

Who round this sanctorum with great patience stand

Waiting, to come under the shaver's hand;

The operators they great tact display

In sending so quick "each new reap'd" face away;

 p99  And make their razors move with easy grace

Over each son of Neptune's sun‑burnt face;

No flattering compliments are bandied o'er,

No "pray sit down sir" as it is ashore;

But in true sailor style you'll hear them say,

"Give us a scrape old fellow, quick's your play:"

"Whose turn is next?" the operators cry,

" 'Tis mine? 'tis mine!" a dozen tars reply:

"Yours? cries an old main‑top man; "well done Jack,

I see of lying, you ain't lost the knack;

Why damme, man, you're not a moment here

And now you're trying to make things appear

As if your turn was next, you count too fast;"

"So 'tis!" a wag replies, "next to the last."

"Patterson?" another cries. "I want a shave —

Not such as you to me last Wednesday gave,

For 'pon my soul, your razor was so dull

I thought my face was off at every pull;

And if you serve me that way any more,

I shan't forget you when the cruise is o'er:"

The barber cries, "just try it once again,

I'm sure this razor will not give you pain;

For when I've shaved you, I'll a wager make,

My very establishment I'll put at stake

You'll say it is the best and keenest blade

That e'er was on your face by barber laid."

You next see the Cooper, as you would ashore,

His place with staves and hoops quite lumbered o'er,

Converting, perhaps, the polished bone of whale

Into some tub of which he'll soon make sale,

The cash for which he's not the least afraid

Of getting, when the grog money is paid.

A Carpenter you may see in the waist,

Forming some fancy box with scrupulous taste,

Mounted with California's beauteous shell,

Which he can quick for ready money sell.

And close along side, you hear the Tinker's din,

Up to his eyes in copper, brass and tin,

Forming mayhap an article in haste

To please some officer's fastidious taste.

Glance forward, just abreast of the fore-hatch,

You see of Crispin's sons​b a jolly batch,

At work on fenders, oars, pumps, boots and shoes,

For not one leathern job will they refuse;

 p100  And they will try their best with awl and end

The understandings of our tars to mend.

The Tailors, they must not be left behind,

For we a more industrious set can't find

Than those three sons of cabbage, shears and thread,

Who seem to bow with mock submissive head

Unto the fate that binds them to their goods

On board a man‑o'‑war, a three years' cruise.

Amongst the mechanic's noise, you also hear

The dice‑box rattle harshly on the ear;

And in some private corner you may see

A silent group, perhaps of two or three,

Whose eager looks on every throw are bent,

Their very souls upon the game intent;

Dice are prohibited on board 'tis true,

But still you'll find amongst our hardy crew,

Some, who to dabble in this cursed art,

When all their cash is gone, will freely part

With jackets, trowsers, frocks, day after day,

Although their backs the forfeiture must pay,

On the berth-deck, just take a hasty look —

Where you will see each busy bustling cook

Fixing his mess-chest with a tasty air —

For well he knows the master-at‑arms is there,

Whose hawk-like eye will any fault detect,

When he moves round the messes to inspect;

The pots and pans must in a fancy row

Into the chest‑lid and the bag‑rack show!

And every spit‑box, must be to the line,

The staves clean scraped, the hoops like silver shine;

And he whose mess should happen to displease —

With sand and stone, he's worked up by degrees.

Thus does the forenoon slowly pass away

Without a change — the same day after day;

Until the bell's loud clang has made it noon;

And then the boatswain and his mates, full soon,

Proclaim the noontide meal, both shrill and clear,

Which every one on board is pleased to hear.

The busy bum‑boats now you see 'long side

With the good things of this life well supplied,

Comprising bread, eggs, milk, and savoury fish,

In fact, they've all a hungered man might wish.

Towards the boats you see a rushing crowd

Elbowing their way along with outcry loud;

 p101  And though the master-at‑arms is standing by

Watching the traffic with attentive eye,

To see each article is cheaply sold,

And that there's justice done to young and old;

Yet still our tars don't mind his presence now —

But onward jostle with no little row;

And they will leap each other's heads upon,

To reach the boat before the liver's gone;

And now this motley scene is rife with noise —

'Tween sailors, natives, bum‑boat men, and boys —

Some wanting sweet potatoes, others fruit,

Milk, eggs, and bread, they know not which will suit;

Whilst Hill and Antonio, quite bewildered stand

Amongst the group, so quick is each demand.

Now then, one bell has struck, the dinner's o'er —

You see the smokers at their post once more,

With well filled pipe, puffing their cares away,

Concerned at nought beyond the present day.

Perceive that little cluster standing there —

Who move about with such fantastic air,

One laying down some knotty argument,

To which the rest are listening all intent,

Concerning perhaps some farce of little worth

Which he would wish next time to be brought forth;

Those are our Thespians — who with all their faults

Have had the luck to please our "hard old salts,"

Who to every night's performance will repair

Upon the quarter-deck — you'll see them there

Waiting with silent patience, happy souls,

To applaud some scene of Shakespeare or of Knowles;

And who next morn' with oaths, will stout advance,

That to our lads, Kean ain't a circumstance.

One sea built Roscius says he will not stoop

To play such minor parts upon the poop

As they shoved on to him the night before,

He is determined to stand this no more;

"I know my worth," he cries with curious leer, —

"Let me in some deep tragedy appear,

And then you all will have a chance to judge

Whether my playing is but empty fudge."

Another comes with looks of sore distress,

And says he is not suited with his dress;

"As for the coat, I wore it twice before —

My God! don't let me wear it any more;

 p102  It will just suit the darkie in the song,

For he with any thing can get along:"

One wants a pair of tights to fit him neat,

And then he says he will be all complete;

Another wants a wig or he can't play,

He don't care a cent be it black white or gray;

And then a youngster, stage-struck 'mongst the rest,

Comes to the manager with his request

Concerning curls his simple head to deck,

Besides some beads to ornament his neck.

Argument now occurs amongst the group

'Bout who's the tip‑top player on the poop,

Or who's the fittest person to install

As guardian of the wardrobe, scenes and all.

That, oh! immortal Shakspeare, could you view

The green-room wranglings of this Thespian crew,

And hear how certain ones your verse besmears,

You'd in a passion slit the asses' ears.

Near to the Thespians, just between the guns,

Behold that noisy crowd of Neptune's sons

Surrounding a tar who's trying to unfold

The news from Bennett's Herald six months old.

"Here 'tis," the quidnunc cries with great delight,

"Here's the war, my lads, in black and white;

The boys down east they say they'll never flinch,

And of the land they won't give up one inch;

Though Johnny Bull may bluster 'cross the main,

They think there able to hook on again:"

"Well, let it come," cries a hard-weather tar,

"I am not one that wishes for a war,

But if so be this proves to be a fact,

Why, lads, we know how we will have to act.

We've got a noble ship, that's one look out,

And she last war has weathered many a bout;

And with her present officers and crew

We'll show Columbia what she now can do;

I'm sure there's not a soul who mans a gun

Will, in close action, from his quarters run

Whilst there's a grain left in the magazine

Or they can wield a pike or cutlass keen;

No, no, give us but half a chance, I'll bet

They'll find 'Old Ironsides' is living yet."

"I cannot believe it true," another cries,

"I think 'tis nothing else but a surmise;

 p103  Some simple, hot‑brained editorial goat

For want of news has set this yarn afloat

To turn the money market to his bent

Or set the quidnuncs on a foolish scent;

In Congress now there's too much sterling sense

To draw the sword on such a slight pretence,

And also, shipmates, the opinion's mine,

None of them know which is the boundary line."

"You're right there, Bob," breaks forth a hard old tar

Whose sun‑burn'd face was seamed with many a scar,

"I believe myself they both are in the dark

About which is the proper line or mark;

For Jefferson when he was living said

That many would be into error led

About it, and would find it hard to trace

In after years the exact or certain place.

Still the down-easters I don't blame a mite,

I glory in a man to have his right;

For should they give up this to Britain's grasp,

No doubt but Johnny Bull would try and clasp

His eager hands upon some other spot

When he'd perceive how slick the first was got.

Another thing, mates, our neighbour Johnny Bull,

As I have heard, has got his hands quite full;

To China he has sent a smashing fleet

And thinks with little trouble to defeat

The Chinese nation; — but I say for one

He'll find that thing easier said than done.

Then there's the Russians, they are standing by,

They'll want to have a finger in the pie,

And Britain with both eyes must look around

To keep her from gaining any 'vantage ground;

So that you see in midst of all this fuss

John Bull is foolish to hook on to us."

Thus in their uncouth style gave forth each tar

Their sage opinions on the expected war,

Until the boatswain's voice, austere and loud,

Calling "all hands," dispersed this motley crowd. —

Upon the upper deck we'll take a view,

Where you perceive almost the whole ship's crew;

Some are at work and some engaged at play

Striving to while the afternoon away:

Behold that customer with clothes‑bag, there,

O'erhauling each article with rigid care;

 p104  See what a heap of donnage snowy-white

He has spread out before his eager sight,

And should he chance some worthless piece to spy

Or some torn frock or trowsers meet his eye,

The articles aside are quickly laid

To be made whole by thread and needle's aid.

In either gangway bend your willing gaze,

You see each group employed in various ways —

One you perceive encircled by a crowd

Reading a "Sun" or "Weekly Herald" loud,

His eager auditors quite mute and still

With oped mouth swallowing of news their fill.

Near yonder gun sits an industrious blade

With all the et ceteras of a tailor's trade,

Working a collar for some graceless wight

Who in a bit of flash takes great delight;

Upon it flags and stars of every hue

And parti-coloured eagles meet the view,

On which the owner bends his ardent gaze,

Giving the fancy workman every praise.

Here you perceive a weather-beaten tar

At work upon a tiny man-of‑war,

Reeving each piece of rigging in its place

With all a perfect sailor's tact and grace,

Crossing each yard and fidding every mast

So exact, that should a connoisseur but cast

His glance upon the work, he could not cry

That either her hull or spars were lubberly.

Further along, snugly between the guns,

You see a few of Morpheus's sons

Who're striving hard with all their utmost might

To make up for the shortness of the night,

And spite of the hubbub that is all around

With seeming zest they're slumbering quite profound.

Hark! on the forecastle you hear a noise

Proceeding from our gay apprentice boys,

Who in a skylark pass the time away,

Their faces beaming smiles, their spirits gay;

No trouble seems to weigh upon their breast,

Their every moment flies with happy zest;

As they their gambols through the ship pursue

They appear the happiest of our happy crew.

The crafty gamblers are again on hand,

Around whom crowds of pleased spectators stand

 p105  In mute attention and with eager eye

Watching the issue of the fatal die,

Whilst the deluded gamester peers around

With quickened glance upon the slightest sound;

For should an officer the group detect,

They know the penalty they may expect.

The bell strikes eight — clear up the deck's the cry,

To grasp their brooms the sweepers quickly fly;

The industrious ones they put their work away

To be resumed again the coming day;

The rattle of the dice‑box now is still,

The youngsters of their games have had their fill;

And as the shrilly whistle, sweepers call,

It puts an end to play or work 'mongst all.

Hear how the sons of Somnus grumble deep

Because the sweepers rouse them from their sleep;

They look around with dull and vacant stare

And in their peevish anger roundly swear.

Supper is piped and quickly hurried o'er

And through the ship you hear a loud uproar,

For at the twilight hour each one you see

Is moving o'er the decks with sprightly glee,

Pursuing their gambols with a lightsome heart,

In which both old and young alike take part;

And on each face appears some spark of joy

From the aged mastman to the messenger boy.

Whilst they're pursuing their wild gambols round

The "shrilly whistles" through the ship resound,

And "Stand by your hammocks" now re‑echoes loud,

Which quick disperses all the joyous crowd;

In rapid haste they down the ladders go,

On every deck they're hurrying to and fro,

Each one engaged with quite a busy face

Arranging his hammock in its proper place;

Some of our older salts they quick turn in

To escape the uproar and the noisy din

That now proceeds from 'tween the forward guns,

Where you perceive a crowd of Ocean's sons

Pursuing still their noisy mirth around,

The whole main-deck re‑echoing with the sound.

Behold that coterie assembled there

With smiling faces quite devoid of care,

Trolling the merry song night after night,

To which their audience listen with delight;

 p106  And thus do they pass the heavy time away,

Their bosoms always light, their spirits gay.

Further along a pleasant circle's sat

Beguiling the time in joyous friendly chat,

Narrating some jeu d'esprit with easy grace

Or fearful spectral tale with serious face,

To be absorbed in which the group appear,

And to each "yarn" they lend a willing ear.

A veteran tar will sometimes join the crowd

And tell the listeners in a voice quite loud

How he the scorching heat of Afric braved

Or round him icy perils Northward raved;

How he has felt the fearful thrilling shock

When his frail ship was dashed upon the rock;

Describing the savage coast, the barren sands,

The dangerous reefs he's 'scaped in foreign lands;

How the tornado, or the fierce typhoon,

The fatal whirlwind or the curs'd monsoon

Assailed his hapless bark at divers times

When seeking his fortune in far distant climes.

Thus do they bellow forth the merry song

Or pass the jest or anecdote along,

Until the rattle of the fife and drum

On the spar-deck soon drowns the busy hum;

And as the bell strikes eight, the cannon's sound

Among the adjacent hills does loud resound,

The crowd disperses and the tar he goes

With quickened step to seek his calm repose;

And save the watchful sentinel's slow tread

The gallant ship's as silent as the dead;

And now the tar, fatigued with work or play,

Is calmly sleeping all his cares away;

Dreaming perhaps of home's endearing ties

And thinking he sees before his eager eyes

The loving parent, or the blushing maid

Who first with guileless smile his heart betray'd;

And thus does the wanderer on the mighty deep

In his rude couch enjoy his tranquil sleep,

Until the Boatswain's pipe once more will sound

To break again his slumbers so profound.

Thayer's Notes:

a There's no praying here; this is a joke. Bibles are sailor slang for large holystones; sanding the deck with them was originally done on your knees.

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b Saint Crispin, patron saint of workers in leather and in particular of shoemakers.

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Page updated: 5 Oct 21