A Cargo of Diamonds

A Cargo of Diamonds

This week’s choice is “Cargoes” by John Masefield.

With a cargo of diamonds,
Emeralds, amethysts,
Topazes, and cinnamon, and gold moidores.

John Masefield (1878—1967)

Poem 222. 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.

In this poem, Masefield contrasts the romantic vision of the quinquireme (a Hellenistic rowed warship with multiple banks of oarsmen) with its fabulous cargo and the Spanish galleon with its rich jewels and golden coins with the shabby figure of the British ship carrying items of surpassing mundanity.

The language he uses changes completely in the last stanza from gorgeous and brilliant adjectives that speak of marvellous and mysterious things to short and common words that speak only of a vast mediocrity. The poem likewise sweeps from the wonderful goods carried by ships of the past to the cheap but necessary freight of Masefield’s day and ours, though I think he would have looked incredulously at modern cargo ships!

Japanese container ship, boxes stacked end to end
Stopping up the Suez, stuck upon the shores
All the cargos of consoles,
Bleach bottles, bananas,
Trapped in a traffic jam, late to reach the stores

(with apologies to John Masefield)

I like this poem because of the contrasts and the language used to describe the cargoes, even that of the “dirty British coaster” and because of Masefield’s ability to paint us a picture with so few words.

Comments (from the original post)

  • Linda Willing: Love this Matt, puts a bit of sparkle into a grey day xxxx