(1892) 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 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, 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 those 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, He lifts his 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 paced the 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!”