Monday, October 08, 2007


From the California 1912 6th Grade Reader


            (This stirring poem by Joaquin Miller, the California poet, is widely known and greatly admired.  An English critic said recently, “In point of power, workmanship, and feeling, among all the poems written by Americans, we are inclined to give first place to ‘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 must we pray,
                        For lo! the very stars are gone.
            Brave Adm’r’l, 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 Adm’r’l, say
                        If we sight naught but seas at dawn?”
            “Why, you shall say at break of day:
                        ‘Sail on! 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 dread seas is gone.
            Now speak, brave Adm’r’l; 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 Adm’r’l, 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! a light! 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!”

                                                                                    —Joaquin Miller