Comparisons and Biblical References

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These are the Bible verses that were referenced in the footnotes on page 377 of Roberts:

1 Kings 10:22: The king had a fleet of trading ships at sea along with the ships of Hiram. Once every three years it returned, carrying gold, silver and ivory, and apes and baboons.

2 Chronicles 9:21:
Same as 1 Kings 10:22

1 Kings 9:11:
(Hiram king of Tyre had supplied Solomon with cedar and cypress timber and gold according to all his desire), then King Solomon gave Hiram twenty cities in the land of Galilee.


Upon first glance, I did not really care too much for this poem. Why was John Masefield simply stating various cargo loads? It didn't matter to me, nor did it make much sense. Then, after I examined  the poem again and read it out loud, I realized that there is amuch deeper meaning than I was anticipating.

The poem is organized from the richest lifestyle to the dingiest. Both the "Quinquereme of Nineveh from distant Ophir" (line 1), and the "Stately Spanish galleon coming from the Isthmus" (line 6) are large and luxiourious cargo ships. Additionally, these ships are ancient, used during times when shipping was a hot commodity and in lands that can be likened to "paradise." ("... haven in Sunny Palestine (line 2)" and "...through the Tropics by the palm-green shores (line 7)") Also, the description of the actual cargoes of these first two ships indicate the luxirious nature of their countries of origin: "With a cargo of ivory,/ and apes and peacocks,/ Sandalwood, cedarwood, and sweet white wine" (lines 3-5); "With a cargo of diamonds,/ Emeralds, amethysts,/ Topazes, and cinnamon, and fold moidores" (lines 8-10).

The third stanza, however, presents a strong contrast between its content and the content of the previous two stanzas. Right away, we are given evidence of such a contrast in lines 11 and 12: "Dirty british coaster with a salt-caked smoke-stack,/ Butting through the Channel in the mad March days". This is immensely different from the previously described Quinquereme, the "largest of the ancient ships, with three tiers of oars" and the Spanish galleon coming from the Tropical lands of "the Isthmus of Panama" (footnotes, page 377). The third stanza is an explanation of the title, "Cargoes 1902," and describes the type of cargo that a "British coaster (line 11)" would carry during Britain in 1902:  "With a cargo of Tyne coal,/ Road-rails, pig-lead,/ Firewood, iron-ware, and cheap tin trays (lines13-15).

Interestingly, in 1902, Britain was emerging from a war called the "South African War... also called Boer War, or Anglo-boer Warwar fought between Great Britain and the two Boer (Afrikaner) republics--the South African Republic (Transvaal) and the Orange Free State" ( The war began on October 11, 1899 and ended, coincidentally, on May 31st, 1902. When Masefield referred to "the mad March days" in line 12 of "Cargoes 1902," he was probably referring to the end of the Boer War and the cargo that was needed to complete that war (as is referenced in lines 13-15 of the poem). 




Wow... you've done a tremendous bit of detective work, clearly showing an advanced ability to draw on multiple sources in order to get meaning out of a text. Remarkable! The British attempts at imperial splendor look pathetic compared to Solomon's! Good job supporting a non-obvious interpretation.

JessicaOrlowski Author Profile Page said:

Thank you, Dr. Jerz! The British, however, did what they needed to do at the time. Even though it looks pathetic, it was necessary. I wonder if this is Masefield's way of showing the evils of industrialization...

Dave said:

So, upon my first reading of the poem, I had no idea that 1902 was part of the title, since all the other poems have the year next to them (though in parenthesis). The reference to the Boer war definately clarifies that bit about "mad March days."

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