Gateway to the Classics: Poems Every Child Should Know by Mary E. Burt
Poems Every Child Should Know by  Mary E. Burt


We are greatly indebted to Joaquin Miller for his "Sail On! Sail On!" Endurance is the watchword of the poem and the watchword of our republic. Every man to his gun! Columbus discovered America in his own mind before he realised it or proved its existence. I have often drawn a chart of Columbus's life and voyages to show what need he had of the motto "Sail On!" to accomplish his end. This is one of our greatest American poems. The writer still lives in California.

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 must we pray,

For lo! the very stars are gone;

Speak, Admiral, what shall I say?"

"Why say, sail on! and on!"

"My men grow mut'nous day by day;

My men grow ghastly wan and weak."

The stout mate thought of home; a spray

Of salt wave wash'd his swarthy cheek.

"What shall I say, brave Admiral,

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 blanch'd 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 dread seas is gone.

Now speak, brave Admiral, and say——"

He said: "Sail on! and on!"

They sailed, they sailed, then spoke his mate:

"This mad sea shows his teeth to-night,

He curls his lip, he lies in wait,

With lifted teeth as if to bite!

Brave Admiral, say but one word;

What shall we do when hope is gone?"

The words leaped as a leaping sword:

"Sail on! sail on! and on!"

Then, pale and worn, he kept his deck,

And thro' the darkness peered that night.

Ah, darkest night! and then a speck,—

A light! a light! a light! a light!

It grew—a star-lit flag unfurled!

It grew to be Time's burst of dawn;

He gained a world! he gave that world

Its watch-word: "On! and on!"

Joaquin Miller.

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