Claire Curtis Violins
violinmaking

The Old Figurehead Carver

poem by Hiram Cody of Fredericton, New Brunswick, 1925


I have done my share of carving figureheads of quaint design
For the Olives and the Ruddicks and the famous Black Ball Line
Brigantines and barks and clippers, brigs and schooners, lithe and tall
But the bounding Marco Polo was the flower of them all.

While my hands are steady, while my eyes are good,
I will carve the music of the wind into the wood.

I can see that white-winged clipper reeling under scudding clouds
Tramping down a hazy skyline with a Norther in her shrouds
I can feel her lines of beauty, see her flecked with spume and brine
As she drives her scuppers under, and that figurehead of mine.

'Twas of seasoned pine I made it, clear from outer bark to core
From the finest piece of timber, from the mast-pond on Straight Shore
Every bite of axe or chisel, every ringing mallet welt
Wrought from out that block of timber all the spirit that I felt.

I had read of Marco Polo, til his daring deeds were mine
And I say them all a-glowing in that balsam-scented pine
Saw his eyes alight with purpose, facing every vagrant breeze
Saw him lilting free and careless over all the seven seas.

That was how I did my carving, beat of heart and stroke of hand
Putting into life and action all the purpose that I planned
Flowing robes and wind-tossed tresses, forms of beauty, strength, design
I saw them all and tried to carve them in that figurehead of mine.

And when my hands are feeble, and my outward eyes grow dim
I will see again those clippers reeling o'er the ocean's rim
Great white fleet of sailing rovers, wind above and surf beneath
With the Marco Polo leading, and my carving in her teeth.


This poem mentions a clipper ship, the Marco Polo, which in its day was the fastest ship in the world. The poem was set to music by Dick Swain. You can find the song on the album "Sea Fever" by John Roberts, on "Apples in the Basket" by Gordon Bok, and on "Away from it all" by Dave Webber and Anni Fentiman

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