Quinquireme of Nineveh from distant Ophir,
Rowing home to haven in sunny Palestine,
With a cargo of ivory,
And apes and peacocks,
Sandalwood, cedarwood, and sweet white wine.
Stately Spanish galleon coming from the Isthmus,
Dipping through the Tropics by the palm-green shores,
With a cargo of diamonds,
Topazes, and cinnamon, and gold moidores.
Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack,
Butting through the Channel in the mad March days,
With a cargo of Tyne coal,
Firewood, iron-ware, and cheap tin trays.
Note: Quinquiremes were Roman warships, not cargo vessels, that sailed the seas long after the glory days of Nineveh - a land-locked city, now known as Mosul. The Biblical city of Ophir, whose principal export was reputedly gold, was probably in the Persian Gulf rather than the Mediterranean, where Palestine is located. However Masefield is not seeking to be historically or geographically accurate and was, in the first stanza, evoking the trading empire of the Phoenicians, or possibly that of Solomon.
He moves on from the sensuality of the Phoenician cargo to the valuable cargoes of the Spanish Conquistadors, and then on to the prosaic commerce of the British Empire. He links together these maritime empires of different ages through the structure of the stanzas, and contrasts both the ships and their cargoes through the rhythm and sounds of the words.