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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
America: Vols. XXV–XXIX. 1876–79.

Western States: Superior, the Lake

The Three Ships

By Julia C. R. Dorr (1825–1913)

OVER, the waters clear and dark

Flew, like a startled bird, our bark.

All the day long with steady sweep

Sea-gulls followed us over the deep.

Weird and strange were the silent shores,

Rich with their wealth of buried ores;

Mighty the forests, old and gray,

With the secrets locked in their hearts away;

Semblance of castle and arch and shrine

Towered aloft in the clear sunshine;

And we watched for the warder, stern and grim,

And the priest with his chanted prayer and hymn.

Over that wonderful northern sea,

As one who sails in a dream, sailed we,

Till, when the young moon soared on high,

Nothing was round us but sea and sky.

Far in the east the pale moon swung,—

A crescent dim in the azure hung;

But the sun lay low in the glowing west,

With bars of purple across his breast.

The skies were aflame with the sunset glow,

The billows were all aflame below;

The far horizon seemed the gate

To some mystic world’s enchanted state;

And all the air was a luminous mist,

Crimson and amber and amethyst.

Then silently into that fiery sea,—

Into the heart of the mystery,—

Three ships went sailing, one by one,

The fairest visions under the sun.

Like the flame in the heart of a ruby set

Were the sails that flew from each mast of jet;

While darkly against the burning sky

Streamer and pennant floated high.

Steadily, silently, on they pressed

Into the glowing, reddening west;

Until, on the far horizon’s fold,

They slowly passed through its gate of gold.

You think, perhaps, they were nothing more

Than schooners laden with common ore?

Where Care clasped hands with grimy Toil,

And the decks were stained with earthly moil?

Oh, beautiful ships, who sailed that night

Into the west from our yearning sight,

Full well I know that the freight ye bore

Was laden not for an earthly shore!

To some far realm ye were sailing on,

Where all we have lost shall yet be won;

Ye were bearing thither a world of dreams,

Bright as that sunset’s golden gleams;

And hopes whose tremulous, rosy flush

Grew fairer still in the twilight hush.

Ye were bearing hence to that mystic sphere

Thoughts no mortal may utter here,—

Songs that on earth may not be sung,—

Words too holy for human tongue,—

The golden deeds that we would have done,—

The fadeless wreaths that we would have won!

And hence it was that our souls with you

Traversed the measureless waste of blue,

Till you passed under the sunset gate,

And to us a voice said, softly, “Wait!”