One of the poems that children had to learn by heart in the English school system when Poet-in-Residence was a mere sprog and whippersnapper was Cargoes, penned in 1902 by John Masefield whose 130th birthday it will be tomorrow, 1st June 2008.
As a child Masefield learnt poetry by heart before he could even read. One of the first poems to make an impression on him was The Dying Swan by Tennyson. At the age of 13 Masefield was sent away to sea but returned from Chile with a mysterious illness. Later he spent some time tramping around America. In 1930 he was appointed Poet Laureate ahead of some of big names being touted for the post - De La Mare, Housman, Kipling, Yeats. The Times commented that it was good to have a non-university man who touched the beauty in the plain speech of everyday life.
Quinquireme of Nineveh from distant Ophir
Rowing home to haven in sunny Palestine,
With a cargo of ivory,
And apes and peacocks,
Sandalwood, cedarwood, and sweet white wine.
Stately Spanish galleon coming from the Isthmus,
Dipping through the Tropics by palm-green shores,
With a cargo of diamonds,
Topazes, and cinnamon, and gold moidores.
Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack
Butting through the Channel in the mad March days,
With a cargo of Tyne coal,
Firewood, iron-ware, and cheap tin trays.
I have seen flowers come in stony places
And kind things done by men with ugly faces,
And the gold cup won by the worst horse at the races,
So I trust, too.
(1st June 1878 - 12th May 1967)