Following on from last week, another poem with a surprising choice of subject matter: who would have thought that transporting sheep by boat could produce a piece that I for one, not normally much of a W.H.Davies fan, find curiously effective for all its seeming naivety. I think it owes its success to the poet’s empathy with the unfortunate beasts, and that’s fine, but I wonder if it also works by stirring up thoughts of human cargoes, slaves and convicts, also transported by sea in appalling conditions, and with scarcely more notion of where they were or understanding of what lay in store for them than had the poor sheep in the poem.
When I was once in Baltimore,
A man came up and cried,
‘Come, I have eighteen hundred sheep,
And we will sail on Tuesday’s tide.
‘If you will sail with me, young man,
I’ll pay you fifty shillings down;
These eighteen hundred sheep I take
From Baltimore to Glasgow town.’
He paid me fifty shillings down,
I sailed with eighteen hundred sheep;
We soon had cleared the harbour’s mouth,
We soon were in the salt sea deep.
The first night we were out at sea
Those sheep were quiet in their mind;
The second night they cried with fear –
They smelt no pastures in the wind.
They sniffed, poor things, for their green fields,
They cried so loud I could not sleep:
For fifty thousand shillings down
I would not sail again with sheep.