The Captains

A poem by Henry Lawson

The Captains sailed from all the World, from all the world and Spain;
And each one for his country’s ease, her glory and her gain;
The Captains sailed to Southern Seas, and sailed the Spanish Main;
And some sailed out beyond the World, and some sailed home again.

And each one for his daily bread, and bitter bread it was,
Because of things they’d left at home, or for some other cause.
Their wives and daughters made the lace to deck the Lady’s gown,
Where sailors’ wives sew dungarees by many a seaport town.

The Captains sailed in rotten ships, with often rotten crews,
Because their lands were ignorant and meaner than the ooze;
With money furnished them by Greed, or by ambition mean,
When they had crawled to some pig-faced, pig-hearted king or queen.

And when a storm was on the coast, and spray leaped o’er the quays,
Then little Joan or Dorothy, or Inez or Louise,
Would kneel her down on such a night beside her mother’s knees,
And fold her little hands and pray for those beyond the seas.
With the touching faith of little girls, the faith by love embalmed,
They’d pray for men beyond the seas who might have been becalmed.

For some will pray at Christ His feet, and some at MARY’S shrine;
And some to Heathen goddesses, as I have prayed to mine;
To Mecca or to Bethlehem, to Fire, or Joss, or Sol,
And one will pray to sticks or stones, and one to her rag doll.
But we are stubborn men and vain, and though we rise or fall,
Our children’s prayers or women’s prayers, GOD knows we need them all!
And no one fights the bitter gale, or strives in combat grim,
But, somewhere in the world, a child is praying hard for him.

The Captains sailed to India, to China and Japan.
They met the Strangers’ Welcome and the Friendliness of Man;
The Captains sailed to Southern Seas, and “wondrous sights” they saw,
The Rights of Man in savage lands, and law without a law.
They learnt the truth from savages, and wisdom from the wild,
And learned to walk in unknown ways, and trust them like a child.
(The sailors told of monstrous things that be where sailors roam . . .
But none had seen more monstrous things than they had seen at home.)

They found new worlds for crowded folk in cities old and worn,
And huts of hunger, fog and smoke in lands by Faction torn.
(They found the great and empty lands where Nations might be born.)
They found new foods, they found new wealth, and newer ways to live,
Where sons might grow in strength and health, with all that God would give.
They tracked their ways through unknown seas where Danger still remains,
And sailed back poor and broken men, and some sailed back in chains.
But, bound or free, or ill or well, where’er their sails were furled,
They brought to weary, worn-out lands glad tidings from the World.

The Seasons saw our fathers come, their flocks and herds increase;
They saw the old lands waste in War, the new lands waste in Peace;
The Seasons saw new gardens made, they saw the old lands bleed,
And into new lands introduced the curse of Class and Creed.
They saw the birth of Politics, and all was ripe for Greed.
And Mammon came and built his towers, and Mammon held the fort:
Till one new land went dollar-mad, and one went mad for Sport.

Where men for love of Science sailed in rotten tubs for years,
To hang or starve, while nought availed a wife or daughter’s tears,
Where men made life-long sacrifice for some blind Northern Power,
Now Science sinks a thousand souls, and sinks them in an hour.
You would be rich and great too soon, have all that mortal craves;
The day may come ere you have lived when you’ll be poor and slaves.
You heeded not the warning voice, for Self and Sport prevailed;
You yet might wish, in dust and dread, those Captains had not sailed.

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