This poem sounds a bit dated now, which is not surprising as it was written about the time of the First World War. But, nevertheless, if you translate it mentally forward in time to container ships crewed by seamen from the third world it is a timely reminder, especially the last verse, that we live on an island – and if ships don’t get here we are in trouble.
“Oh, where are you going to, all you Big Steamers,
With England’s own coal, up and down the salt seas?”
“We are going to fetch you your bread and your butter,
Your beef, pork, and mutton, eggs, apples, and cheese.”
“And where will you fetch it from, all you Big Steamers,
And where shall I write you when you are away?
“We fetch it from Melbourne, Quebec, and Vancouver–
Address us at Hobart, Hong-Kong, and Bombay.”
“But if anything happened to all you Big Steamers,
And suppose you were wrecked up and down the salt sea?”
“Then you’d have no coffee or bacon for breakfast,
And you’d have no muffins or toast for your tea.”
“Then I’ll pray for fine weather for all you Big Steamers,
For little blue billows and breezes so soft.”
“Oh, billows and breezes don’t bother Big Steamers,
For we’re iron below and steel-rigging aloft.”
“Then I’ll build a new lighthouse for all you Big Steamers,
With plenty wise pilots to pilot you through.”
“Oh, the Channel’s as bright as a ball-room already,
And pilots are thicker than pilchards at Looe.”
“Then what can I do for you, all you Big Steamers,
Oh, what can I do for your comfort and good?”
“Send out your big warships to watch your big waters,
That no one may stop us from bringing you food.
“For the bread that you eat and the biscuits you nibble,
The sweets that you suck and the joints that you carve,
They are brought to you daily by all us Big Steamers–
And if one hinders our coming you’ll starve!”
The italics of the last verse are how it appears in the version I consulted. Evidently Kipling wanted to drive his point home – and he succeeds !