I Saw A Ship A-Sailing —

I saw a ship a-sailing,

A-sailing on the sea;

And, oh! it was all laden

With pretty things for thee!

There were comfits in the cabin,

And apples in the hold;

The sails were made of silk,

And the masts were made of gold.

—- Mother Goose Nursery Rhyme

What do little children read today? Or have read to them?

I grew up on Mother Goose. I knew scores of nursery rhymes by heart. I was a “bad eater” — that’s what it was called, or sometimes, a “picky eater” — and the easiest way to slip food past my lips was to read to me. I would sit and listen open-mouthed, agape at other worlds, other realities.

That was three-quarters of a century ago, and I still remember every rhyme. So it’s no wonder that, when I noticed the ship in the niche in our local Chinese restaurant, familiar words came unbidden from the distant past:

The silken sails, the golden masts —

But I’d forgot the rest of the rhyme, which is too bad, because it’s exactly what a modern child, ignorant of ancient confections, unimpressed by apples, would find most delightful aboard that ship a-sailing:

The four-and-twenty sailors

That stood between the decks,

Were four-and-twenty white mice

With chains about their necks.

The captain was a duck,

With a packet on his back;

And when the ship began to move,

The captain said, “Quack! Quack!”

You can’t see them? They’re right there, right in your mind’s-eye, which is where all magic begins, anyway. What magic do you remember?

This entry was posted in Etcetera, Memory, Poetry, Reading and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to I Saw A Ship A-Sailing —

  1. I remember flying “over the rainbow,” with the bluebirds!


  2. I remember “Christmas is coming, the geese are getting fat….”


  3. Pauline says:

    “The sails were made of silk,
    And the masts were made of gold.”

    You didn’t forget much! I had a Little Golden Book of Verse that my mother read to me so often I memorized several poems. When she and my father entertained dinner guests, I was asked to come downstairs in my bathrobe and recite for them. I still remember standing in the doorway of the dining room reciting, “I’m hiding, I’m hiding and no one knows where, for all they can see are my toes and my hair…” and then fleeing up the stairs before anyone had a chance to say a word to me. I also remember the entire poem about a puffin just the shape of a muffin who lived on an island in the bright blue sea. I often recite poetry to my grandchildren and made sure they each received a gilt-edged copy of Mother Goose Rhymes as a birth gift. Eleven year old Sophia recently told me that they are studying poetry in her class and her teacher was surprised when she could recite Robert Louis Stevenson’s, “The Swing,” a childhood favorite of mine and one I recited to her over and over as I pushed her on her own swing.


    • Touch2Touch says:

      What a beautiful story, Pauline! I loved Robert Louis Stevenson also, and would read my favorites again and again. But I’d forgot “The Swing” (even though I’d adored swinging as a child, and was much braver than I can now believe I could have been).
      For anyone else who’s forgotten the words, here they are with a charming illustration: The Swing.


    • Anonymous says:

      I would love to get my hands on this book!! It was passed down to me from my sister, and I loved it. The pictures were wonderful!! Sort of 1800’s. There was a poem about a little boy that loved to go to his grandma’s for tea. The puffin in the shape of a muffin, I’m hiding, I’m hiding and no one knows where…There was one about a little girl who admires a policeman on a horse. And of course the one about “I saw a ship a sailing…
      It was probably published in the 1940’s. Like I said, the pictures were wonderful! In addition to the rhymes, it was the best part of the book


      • Touch2Touch says:

        I’m sure you can still find wonderful illustrated Mother Goose books. I refuse to believe that modern children are cut off from all those wonders!
        Your snippets are very intriguing, although they don’t ring any bells for me. (“Rings on her fingers, bells on her toes, she shall have music wherever she goes”— do you remember that one?) The edition we both loved, I’m sure they were the same edition, might have been illustrated by Blanche Fisher Wright in 1916. Check out this link and see if it looks familiar: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/10607/10607-h/10607-h.htm.


  4. Pseu says:

    Oh, too many to mention!


  5. Stef says:

    I didn’t hear much of nursery rhymes as a child, but I did get a good helping of Dr. Seuss as my first books. They still make me smile.


  6. Peter says:

    Dr Seuss is in my first memories – 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins and Horton Hatches an Egg. There was also one about a character who tried to repair a blanket with many holes by cutting out the holes. Probably new and trendy for the times – not classic like Mother Goose.


    • Touch2Touch says:

      My son-in-law is imprinted with Green Eggs and Ham!
      I wonder if the newest baby crop is hearing Mother Goose rhymes — however classic — or if she’s passing away like so much else.
      (Your mother was more modern than mine: I never heard of Dr. Seuss until college 🙂


  7. frizztext says:

    wonderful poem!
    S = sailship
    visit my sailship photo …


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