Columbus by Joaquin Miller

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Columbus

by Joaquin Miller

Behind him lay the gray Azores,
 Behind the Gates of Hercules;
Before him not the ghost of shores,
 Before him only shoreless seas.
The good mate said: “Now we must pray,
 For lo! the very stars are gone.
Brave Admiral, speak, what shall I say?”
 “Why, say, ‘Sail on! sail on! and on!’ “

“My men grow mutinous day by day;
 My men grow ghastly wan and weak.”
The stout mate thought of home; a spray
 Of salt wave washed his swarthy cheek.
“What shall I say, brave Admiral, say,
 If we sight naught but seas at dawn?”
“Why, you shall say at break of day,
 ‘Sail on! sail on! and on!’ “

They sailed and sailed, as winds might blow,
 Until at last the blanched mate said:
“Why, now not even God would know
 Should I and all my men fall dead.
These very winds forget their way,
 For God from these dead seas is gone.
Now speak, brave Admiral, speak and say” —
 He said, “Sail on! sail on! and on!”

They sailed. They sailed. Then spake the mate:
 “This mad sea shows his teeth tonight.
He curls his lip, he lies in wait,
 With lifted teeth, as if to bite!
Brave Admiral, say but one good word:
 What shall we do when hope is gone?”
The words leapt like a leaping sword:
 “Sail on! sail on! sail on! and on!”

Then pale and worn, he kept his deck,
 And peered through darkness. Ah, that night
Of all dark nights! And then a speck —
 A light! a light! at last a light!
It grew, a starlit flag unfurled!
 It grew to be Time’s burst of dawn.
He gained a world; he gave that world
 Its grandest lesson: “On! sail on!”

 

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