The Rhyme Of The Three Sealers

Away by the lands of the Japanee
  Where the paper lanterns glow
  And the crews of all the shipping drink
  In the house of Blood Street Joe,
  At twilight, when the landward breeze
  Brings up the harbour noise,
  And ebb of Yokohama Bay
  Swigs chattering through the buoys,
  In Cisco's Dewdrop Dining-Rooms
  They tell the tale anew
  Of a hidden sea and a hidden fight,
  When the ~Baltic~ ran from the ~Northern Light~
  And the ~Stralsund~ fought the two.
 
Now this is the Law of the Muscovite, that he proves with shot and steel,
When ye come by his isles in the Smoky Sea ye must not take the seal,
Where the gray sea goes nakedly between the weed-hung shelves,
And the little blue fox he is bred for his skin
  and the seal they breed for themselves;
For when the ~matkas~ seek the shore to drop their pups aland,
The great man-seal haul out of the sea, a-roaring, band by band;
And when the first September gales have slaked their rutting-wrath,
The great man-seal haul back to the sea and no man knows their path.
Then dark they lie and stark they lie -- rookery, dune, and floe,
And the Northern Lights come down o' nights to dance with the houseless snow;
And God Who clears the grounding berg and steers the grinding floe,
He hears the cry of the little kit-fox and the wind along the snow.
But since our women must walk gay and money buys their gear,
The sealing-boats they filch that way at hazard year by year.
English they be and Japanee that hang on the Brown Bear's flank,
And some be Scot, but the worst of the lot, and the boldest thieves, be Yank!
 
It was the sealer ~Northern Light~, to the Smoky Seas she bore,
With a stovepipe stuck from a starboard port and the Russian flag at her fore.
(~Baltic~, ~Stralsund~, and ~Northern Light~ --
  oh! they were birds of a feather --
Slipping away to the Smoky Seas, three seal-thieves together!)
And at last she came to a sandy cove and the Baltic lay therein,
But her men were up with the herding seal to drive and club and skin.
There were fifteen hundred skins abeach, cool pelt and proper fur,
When the ~Northern Light~ drove into the bight
  and the sea-mist drove with her.
The ~Baltic~ called her men and weighed -- she could not choose but run --
For a stovepipe seen through the closing mist, it shows like a four-inch gun.
(And loss it is that is sad as death to lose both trip and ship
And lie for a rotting contraband on Vladivostock slip.)
She turned and dived in the sea-smother as a rabbit dives in the whins,
And the ~Northern Light~ sent up her boats to steal the stolen skins.
They had not brought a load to side or slid their hatches clear,
When they were aware of a sloop-of-war, ghost-white and very near.
Her flag she showed, and her guns she showed -- three of them, black, abeam,
And a funnel white with the crusted salt, but never a show of steam.
 
There was no time to man the brakes, they knocked the shackle free,
And the ~Northern Light~ stood out again, goose-winged to open sea.
(For life it is that is worse than death, by force of Russian law
To work in the mines of mercury that loose the teeth in your jaw.)
They had not run a mile from shore -- they heard no shots behind --
When the skipper smote his hand on his thigh and threw her up in the wind:
"Bluffed -- raised out on a bluff," said he, "for if my name's Tom Hall,
You must set a thief to catch a thief -- and a thief has caught us all!
By every butt in Oregon and every spar in Maine,
The hand that spilled the wind from her sail was the hand of Reuben Paine!
He has rigged and trigged her with paint and spar,
  and, faith, he has faked her well --
But I'd know the ~Stralsund~'s deckhouse yet from here to the booms o' Hell.
Oh, once we ha' met at Baltimore, and twice on Boston pier,
But the sickest day for you, Reuben Paine, was the day that you came here --
The day that you came here, my lad, to scare us from our seal
With your funnel made o' your painted cloth, and your guns o' rotten deal!
Ring and blow for the ~Baltic~ now, and head her back to the bay,
And we'll come into the game again -- with a double deck to play!"
 
They rang and blew the sealers' call -- the poaching cry of the sea --
And they raised the ~Baltic~ out of the mist, and an angry ship was she:
And blind they groped through the whirling white and blind to the bay again,
Till they heard the creak of the ~Stralsund~'s boom
  and the clank of her mooring chain.
They laid them down by bitt and boat, their pistols in their belts,
And: "Will you fight for it, Reuben Paine, or will you
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Submitted on May 13, 2011

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Rudyard Kipling

Joseph Rudyard Kipling was an English short-story writer, poet, and novelist chiefly remembered for his tales and poems of British soldiers in India and his tales for children. more…

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"The Rhyme Of The Three Sealers" Poetry.net. STANDS4 LLC, 2020. Web. 12 Jul 2020. <https://www.poetry.net/poem/33545/the-rhyme-of-the-three-sealers>.

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