Sails

By George Sterling

In the growing haste of the world must this thing be:
The passing of sails forever from the sea?
Fewer always the sails go out to the West;
More and .huger the steamers howl to the star—
    Trailing their smoke afar,
Staining the deep and the heavens' patient breast.
    Mighhty are these we have tamed—
Giants electric, monsters of gas and of steam,
    Titians unknown tho named.
But oh! for a younger sea and the sails' glad gleam,
    And the clean horizon's call
And the powers of the air man never shall fame at all!
    Was it not well with the world
    And well with the heart,
When ships went forth to lands untraced on a chart? —
    When the dauntless wings were furled
In wonderfulll havens virgin then of a mast,
    At islands without a past,
    Over the world from home?

                    * * *

O mariners! Sea-lords on a stranger blue!
Kings of the planet's sapphire morning! You
    That had Mystery for loot!
Serfs of a sharp unrest that asked no curing
But that of golden and dragon-guarded fruit,
    Where, past the sky-line luring,
    The dim Hesperides
Echoed like purple shells the sirened seas!
A vestige of your kingdom lies in light
Where a lone sail goes out against the night.
O path on which the fleets of the world were led!
Changing, changeless road of marvel and death,—
Of songless birds o'er meadows that none shall tread!
    Of empire gone in a breath
As the keels of the quick descend to the keels of the dead
    In havens lightless and blind!
In the hurry of things shall the sails depart from thee —
    They, kin to the clouds of the sea,
And driven even as clouds by the harboriess wind?
    For I dream of the wonderful wings
    Of the old Phenidan quest
Deeper and deeper into the mystical West;
    Of forgotten ocean-kings,
    When the galley wandered forth,
And the sail shone white on the cold horizon-line,
Like an iceberg's peak that lifted far in the North.
    For I dream of the purple brine
And the blazoned pomp of the saint on the galleon's van.
As, dark from the deep, the sails of Raleigh or Drake
    On the gold of morning ran.
For I dream of battles entered for England's sake,
And Nelson's high war-frigates with canvas taut
Above the thunder of cannon, the world at stake,
    And the world with death well-bought.

                    * * *

    Splendid now on my dream
    The snows of the clipper gleam
Towers of marble, glorious, tall in the sun—
Hurling south to the hurricanes of the Horn.
    O pinions, wrenched and torn
    By the north Atlantic's breath,
On homing whalers, three years' cruising done.
(Captain! captain! what of the seas of Death?)
    O colored sails of the little fishing-boats,
From a thousand turquoise harbors venturing,
    Under the tropic day!
    Grey canvasses that bring
The shapely sealers to San Francisco Bay.
    Where the steel-walled cruiser floats.
    But I hear a naiad sing,
And softer now in my vision the vans of silk
Glimmer on eastern shallops, by dusk adrift
On waters of legend; and webs as white as milk
Are waiting a murdered queen to her island tomb,
    Where he cypress columns lift.
    And ghostly now on the gloom
The shrouded spars of the Flying Dutchman go
    To harbors that none shall know;
Foamless the ripples of her passing die
Across the dark, and then from the dark, a cry!

                    * * *

O light of the sea-solitude! O sails!
    Must you pass even so
To the realms of fantasy and the olden tales?
Ports of oblivion, hidden far from the sun,
At your anchorage shall every one be furled,
These wings of man's adventure around the world—
Like the old beauties dying, one by one?
Ever the clouds return: shall these come back
    On the wind's unchartered track—
Braving again the deep's immortal wrath?
O wings of man's adventure in old years!
    Here at an ocean's brink
    Whence the great, increasing quest
    On the everlasting path
Draws yet the heart and the hand to the sea's frontiers
    And spaces scornful of rest,
Under the night's first star I watch you sink,
In the world's twilight fading, fading West.

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