Gateway to the Classics: Display Item
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 must we pray,

For lo! the very stars are gone;

Speak, Admiral, 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! 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 dread seas is gone.

Now speak, brave Admiral, speak and say—"

He said: "Sail on! sail on! and on!"

They sailed. They sailed. Then spoke the 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 good word;

What shall we do when hope is gone?"

The words leaped as a leaping sword:

"Sail on! 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 grandest lesson: "On! sail on!"