Christmas in Iceland

We lay in Iceland winterbound,
And heard the blizzard blow,
And naught we saw on sea or shore
Except the driving snow.

Then said our Captain to the Cook,
At anchor as we lay,
‘Make us a duff with all your might;
Tomorrow’s Christmas Day!’

Then said the Cook, ‘A Scotsman I,
My season’s Hogmanay,
Yet will I make a mighty duff
To eat on Christmas Day.’

On Christmas Day it still snowed on,
No news from home had we,
But we’d the Cook’s great Christmas duff,
And our good company.

The wind blew wild, the snow it piled
On decks your boot would freeze on,
But in the mess-deck down below
We kept the Christmas season.

With paper streamers all was rigged,
The officers were messmen,
Of seamen, stokers, bunts and all,
None greater were nor less men.

And there was light and warmth and cheer,
No plate nor glass stood empty,
A genial glow lit every heart
Of all our eight and twenty.

We sang the songs we’d sung at home
In Christmases gone by:
Till some for bawdy choruses
Began to call and cry.

Then spoke our youthful gunner, and
With furious blush cried, ‘Nay!
Ye’ve all the year for that my lads;
But this is Christmas Day.’

Another growled, ‘Why rot we here?
A dog’s a better life –
Never to see my bairns, nor sleep
Beside my wedded wife.’

But Coxswain answered, clenching pipe,
‘I’ve wife and kids as well,
But I’d fight the sea and the enemy
From Iceland on to Hell,

So be I knew they’d not lose heart,
Though home I never come,
Till they and all true-hearted folk
Have Christmas safe at home.’

So it was done and said and sung,
And our thoughts went homeward winging
Over the long black ocean leagues,
And a quietness followed the singing,

And aloft the snow picked out each spar,
Each stay and bolt and splicing,
And our good ship rode in the Arctic night
Like a ship of sugar-icing.

Poems of War