Study Guide Prepared by Michael
of Work and Structure
"Cargoes" is a lyric poem
with three stanzas, each with five lines. The stanzas are alike in structure.
For example, the first line of each stanza identifies a type of ship at
sea, and the second line—beginning with an action verb ending in -ing—identifies
a locale. The third line, a prepositional phrase, begins to list items
in the cargo; the fourth and fifth lines complete the list. The second
and fifth lines of each stanza end in masculine
rhyme. In each stanza, the first line has twelve syllables and the
second line has eleven syllables. Notice also that the first line of each
stanza omits the definite article
a before the first word. None
of the stanzas has a complete sentence. The stanzas are in chronological
John Masefield was born in
Ledbury, England. After attending King’s School in Warwick, he went to
sea at age fifteen on a large sailing ship, then worked for a time in New
York City before returning to England in 1897. His experiences aboard the
ship provided him the raw material that made him famous as a sea poet.
In 1902, he published a collection of sea poems entitled Salt-Water
Ballads, in which “Cargoes” appeared.
By John Masefield
of Nineveh2 from distant
Rowing home to haven in
With a cargo of ivory,
And apes and peacocks,
Sandalwood, cedarwood, and
sweet white wine................5
Stately Spanish galleon5
coming from the Isthmus,6
Dipping through the Tropics
by the palm-green shores,
With a cargo of diamonds,
and cinnamon, and gold moidores.9..................10
Dirty British coaster10
with a salt-caked11
Butting through the Channel12
in the mad March days,
With a cargo of Tyne13
Firewood, iron-ware, and
cheap tin trays............................15
Large Greek, Roman, or Carthaginian ship used between the first and fourth
centuries B.C. to wage war and haul cargo. Three three tiers of oarsmen
on each side of the ship propelled the vessel. On its bow was a ram to
batter enemy ships.
Capital city of the ancient empire of Assyria. Nineveh was on the east
bank of the Tigris River in present-day Iraq.
Fabled land of gold referred to in the Bible in the books of Genesis, Kings,
and Chronicles. Evidence indicates that Ophir was in India, Africa, or
Pakistan. Israel's King Solomon received cargoes of riches from Ophir.
In ancient times, a region on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean that
included parts of modern Israel and Jordan. It was occupied first by Canaanites
and later by Hebrews and Philistines. After Hebrew tribes united, they
defeated the Canaanites and later the Philistines and formed the nation
of Israel under King David. Solomon, David's son, succeeded him.
Three- or four-masted sailing vessel used to wage war and haul cargo. It
was developed between 1400 and 1600. Spain and Portugal built the largest
ships of this type.
Strip of land in a body of water that connects two large land masses. In
the poem, Isthmus refers to the Isthmus of Panama, which connects
North and South America.
Purple variety of the mineral quartz, valued as a semiprecious gem.
Gems formed from a hard mineral. Topaz may be colorless, like a diamond,
or yellow, blue, brown, or in rare instances red. Heat treatments can change
Gold coins minted by Portugal, beginning in about 1640.
Vessel that ferries cargo and passengers from one point to another along
11. salt-caked: Caked
with salt from the sea.
12. Channel: English
Channel, between England and France. The French call it La Manche (The
13. Tyne: River in
northern England formed in Northumberland from the confluence of the North
Tyne River and the South Tyne River. As it flows to the North Sea, it passes
through coal fields. Ships plying the Tyne frequently carried coal.
14. Pig-Lead: Crude
lead extracted from ore and poured from a smelting furnace into an oblong
mold to form a block of lead known as a pig.
What ships carry reflects
the culture, government, lifestyle, and technology of civilizations over
the centuries. For example, in ancient biblical times (stanza 1), oar-propelled
ships (quinquiremes) transported ivory, sandalwood, and cedarwood to construct,
outfit, and maintain the palace and other buildings of King Solomon. They
also carried exotic animals and wine to entertain him and his court. After
Columbus discovered the New World, three- or four-masted sailing vessels
(galleons) from Spain and other countries carried from the Americas the
prizes of exploration and exploitation, as well as the spoils of war against
native peoples or enemy ships. Their cargoes of gems, spices, and gold
coins enriched the lives of the royalty and the nobility. Early in the
twentieth century, commercial steamships traveling along coastlines hauled
coal and wood to heat the homes of the masses or to fire the furnaces of
factories manufacturing the tools and other products of a technically advanced
civilization. They also carried materials to construct railroads for the
transport of goods on land. Commoners as well as kings and counts shared
in the benefits of ship cargoes.
The first stanza of the poem
refers to the riches King Solomon imported to Israel, as alluded to in
the Old Testament of the Bible:
servants of Huram and of Solomon who brought gold from Ophir also brought
cabinet wood and precious stones. With the cabinet wood the king made stairs
for the temple of the Lord and the palace of the king; also lyres and harps
for the chanters. The like of these had not been seen before in the land
Solomon gave the queen of Sheba everything she desired and asked him for
more than she had brought to the king. Then she returned to her own country
with her servants.
gold that Solomon received each year weighed six hundred and sixty-six
gold talents, in addition to what was collected from travelers and what
the merchants brought. All the kings of Arabia also, and the governors
of the country, brought gold and silver to Solomon.
King Solomon made two hundred large shields of beaten gold, six hundred
shekels of beaten gold going into each shield, and three hundred bucklers
of beaten gold, three hundred shekels of gold going into each buckler;
these the king put in the hall of the Forest of Lebanon.
Solomon . . . made an ivory throne which he overlaid with fine gold. The
throne had six steps; a footstool of gold was fastened to it, and there
was an arm on each side of the seat, with two lions standing beside the
arms. Twelve other lions also stood there, one on either side of each step.
Nothing like this had ever been produced in any other kingdom. Furthermore,
all of King Solomon's drinking vessels were of gold, and all the utensils
in the hall of the Forest of Lebanon were of pure gold. . . . . For the
king had ships that went to Tarshish with the servants of Huram. Once every
three years the fleet of Tarshish would return with a cargo of gold and
silver, ivory, apes and monkeys. Thus, King Solomon surpassed all the other
kings of the earth in riches as well as in wisdom. (2 Chronicles 9: 10-22)
occurs frequently to enhance the appeal of the poem to the ear. The most
obvious examples of this figure of speech include the following:
galleon coming from the Isthmus
British coaster with a salt-caked
of Tyne coal
The last three lines of the
first two stanzas present concrete images of cargo from distant lands—for
example, ivory, peacocks, sandalwood, white wine, emeralds, and cinnamon—that
facilitate luxurious living. Lines 3-5 of the last stanza, on the other
hand, present examples of commonplace practical products from nearby locales
to maintain the mundane life of the masses.
Questions and Writing Topics
Describe each of the types of ships mentioned in the poem.
Write an essay discussing how King Solomon and his subjects used the cargo
What is meant by "mad March days" (line 12)?
List words in the poem that appeal to one or more of the five senses: sight,
sound, smell, taste, and touch (feeling). Keep in mind what a word suggests.
For example, firewood may suggest a feeling (warmth) as well as a sound
(crackling) when it is burning.
Write a poem that imitates the structure of "Cargoes."
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