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Columbus
by
Joaquin Miller


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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!"

 

This poem is in the public domain.

 

 

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Joaquin Miller (1837 – 1913) was born in Indiana as Cincinnatus Hiner Miller. His family moved to Oregon when he was a teenager; shortly after, Joaquin caught “gold fever” and headed to California to find his fortune in the mines. He came back to Oregon to attend college, but not before enjoying sundry adventures that formed the foundation of a reputation that would serve him well in later years when he traveled the world and was heralded as a real “Western frontiersman.” Besides his very successful career as a poet (he was nicknamed the “Poet of the Sierras”), Joaquin did stints as a gold miner, cattle drover, teacher, lawyer, judge, newspaper editor and correspondent, and Pony Express rider. He eventually settled in Oakland, California on a grassy hillside that is, today, part of that city’s beautiful 500-acre Joaquin Miller Park. Learn more about this colorful poet at www.joaquinmiller.com.

 

 


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