Verse > Anthologies > Ralph Waldo Emerson, ed. > Parnassus: An Anthology of Poetry
Ralph Waldo Emerson, comp. (1803–1882).  Parnassus: An Anthology of Poetry.  1880.
Ships at Sea
By Robert Barry Coffin (“Barry Gray”) (1826–1886)
I HAVE ships that went to sea
  More than fifty years ago:
None have yet come home to me,
  But keep sailing to and fro.
I have seen them, in my sleep,        5
Plunging through the shoreless deep,
With tattered sails and battered hulls,
While around them screamed the gulls,
      Flying low, flying low.
I have wondered why they staid        10
  From me, sailing round the world;
And I’ve said, “I’m half afraid
  That their sails will ne’er be furled.”
Great the treasures that they hold,—
Silks and plumes, and bars of gold;        15
While the spices which they bear
Fill with fragrance all the air,
      As they sail, as they sail.
Every sailor in the port
  Knows that I have ships at sea,        20
Of the waves and winds the sport;
  And the sailors pity me.
Oft they come and with me walk,
Cheering me with hopeful talk,
Till I put my fears aside,        25
And contented watch the tide
      Rise and fall, rise and fall.
I have waited on the piers,
  Gazing for them down the bay,
Days and nights, for many years,        30
  Till I turned heart-sick away.
But the pilots, when they land,
Stop and take me by the hand,
Saying, “You will live to see
Your proud vessels come from sea,        35
      One and all, one and all.”
So I never quite despair,
  Nor let hope or courage fail;
And some day, when skies are fair,
  Up the bay my ships will sail.        40
I can buy then all I need,—
Prints to look at, books to read,
Horses, wines, and works of art,
Every thing except a heart:
      That is lost, that is lost.        45
Once when I was pure and young,
  Poorer, too, than I am now,
Ere a cloud was o’er me flung,
  Or a wrinkle creased my brow,
There was one whose heart was mine;        50
But she’s something now divine,
And though come my ships from sea,
They can bring no heart to me,
      Evermore, evermore.

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