John Masefield's Cargoes Essay

1215 words - 5 pages

The apparent talk in “Cargoes” is about ships and their shipments, but is there a deeper meaning? Do the ships symbolize the riches of the modern, medieval, and contemporary world? These questions can be answered throughout the poem and digested with a deeper meaning. The Quinquereme, Spanish galleon, and the British coaster deteriorated rapidly throughout the poem. When comparing the Quinquereme and the British coaster the difference is obvious. Each critic makes a point of making the ships stand out in the poem. Jhan Hochman and Bruce Meyer agree that the British coaster is dirty and carrying daily goods needed in life. The wealth throughout the centuries digresses, but both Jhan Hochman and Bruce Meyer believes that this poem has more than just wealth implemented inside. The poem loosely resembles the story of the three wise men. Each of the wise men brought different goods back to their king. Masefield uses the Quinquereme, Spanish galleon, and British coaster to symbolize the wealth throughout each century, the poem also relates back to the biblical story of the three wise men.
The first wise men brought frankincense, which was a resin. The Quinquereme of Ninevah traveled to Ophir, to retrieve goods such as ivory, sandalwood, cedarwood, and sweet white wine (line 5). It is not stated where Ophir was, but it was thought to be located in present day Saudi Arabia (Hochman). These goods were retrieved from Ophir every three years and used in King Solomon’s throne and kingdom. Sandalwood was used to build and support Solomon’s lavish temple (Hochman). In the building of Solomon’s throne slavery was important, but the slaves began to resent him later on, which greatly affected the king’s son. Masefield makes a point in the poem to show that the trip was sunny and seen as a haven (2). The ship is safe, and happy throughout the journey (Soule). Masefield also made an effort to open the poem slowly and show the trip was leisurely (Meyer). Looking deeper into the ambiguous meaning, it could be seen as the haven was for Solomon, but not to his people.
The first stanza in Cargoes, according to the wise men would be the Persians; they could be referred to as the middle-class to the present day. The middle-class could be seen as teachers, storeowners, and white-collar citizens. These people could also be known as sophisticated hippies. These people are trying to prove themselves, which explains why Masefield specifically mentioned sweet white wine. The white wine is not too expensive for the middle-class, but allows them the indulgence they would like. Also, being expensive enough that the lower class could not afford.
The second wise man was Indian and he brought gold from the present day Panama Canal, which was for the king. Masefield talks about the ship as a stately Spanish galleon, which can be considered the wealthiest. The wealthiest people owned the most slaves, which concluded about how the Spanish came across their vast fortunes. Ironically,...

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