American Heritage Library


Clipper Ships and Captains
by Rosemary and Stephen Vincent Benet

There was a time before our time,
It will not come again,
When the best ships still were wooden ships
But the men were iron men.

From Stonington to Kennebunk
The Yankee hammers plied
To build the clippers of the wave
That were New England's pride.

The "Flying Cloud," the "Northern Light,"
The "Sovereign of the Seas"--
There was salt music in the blood
That thought of names like these.

"Sea Witch," "Red Jacket," "Golden Age,"
And "Chariot of Fame,"
The whole world gaped to look at them
Before the steamship came.

Their cargoes were of tea and gold,
Their bows a cutting blade;
And, on the bridge, the skippers walked,
Lords of the China trade.

The skippers with the little beards
And the New England drawl,
Who knew Hong Kong and Marblehead
And the Pole Star over all.

Stately as churches, swift as gulls,
They trod the oceans, then
No man had seen such ships before
And none will see again.

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