The Old Figurehead Carver

Poem 1925 H.A. Cody/ music and chorus lyrics 1966 Dick Swain

 

Dick Swain found this wonderful poem in an old book Songs of a Bluenose by H.A. Cody. Dick gave this to Carol and me as a wedding present having made a handsome tune and chorus for it and, of course I had to learn it, woodcarver that I am. Cody was a preacher and a poet in Saint John, N.B. where the Marco Polo was built.

 

Gordon Spanish guitar

Anne, Carol, Cindy, Matt, & Will - vocals

 

I have done my bit of carving

Figureheads of quaint design

For the Olives and the Ruddocks

And the famous Black Ball Line

Brigantines and barques and clippers

Brigs and schooners, lithe and tall

But the bounding Marco Polo

Was the proudest of them all

 

And while my hand is steady, while my eyes are good

I will carve the music of the wind into the wood

 

I can see that white-winged clipper

Reeling under scudding clouds

Tramping down a hazy skyline

With a Norther in her shrouds

I can feel her lines of beauty

See her flecked with spume and bring

As she drives her scuppers under

And that figurehead of mine

 

'Twas of seasoned pine I made it

Clear from outer bark to core

And the finest piece of timber

From the mast-pond on Straight Shore

Every bite of axe or chisel

Every ringing mallet welt

Brought from out that block of timber

All the spirit that I felt

 

I had read of Marco Polo

Till his daring deeds were mine

And I saw them all a-glowing

In that balsam-scented pine

Saw his eyes alight with purpose

Facing every vagrant breeze

Saw him lifting, free and careless

Over all the Seven Seas

 

That was how I did my carving

Beat of heart and stroke of hand

Blended into life and action

All the purpose that I planned

Flowing robes and wind-tossed tresses

Forms of beauty, strength, design

Saw them all, and strove to carve them

In those figureheads of mine

 

I am old, my hands are feeble

And my outward eyes are dim

But I see again those clippers

Lifting o'er the ocean's rim

Great white fleet of reeling rovers

Wind above, the surf beneath

And the Marco Polo leading

With my carving in her teeth

 

 

The Old Figurehead Carver is recorded on the album Apples in the Basket