Augustin S. Macdonald, comp. A Collection of Verse by California Poets. 1914.

By Joaquin Miller


BEHIND him lay the gray Azores,

Behind the Gates of Hercules;

Before him on 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 Adm’r’l speak; what shall I say?”

“Why say: ‘Sail on! sail on! sail 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! sail on!’”

They sailed and sailed, as the winds might blow

Until at last the blanched mate said:

“Why, not even God would know

Should I and all my men fall dead.

These very winds forgot 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! sail on!”

They sailed. They sailed. Then spake the mate:

“This mad sea shows its teeth tonight.

He curls his lips, 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 as a leaping sword:

“Sail on! sail on! sail on! sail 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!”