Reference > Anthologies > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library > Verse

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
The Launching
By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882)

      ALL is finished! and at length
        Has come the bridal day
      Of beauty and of strength.
To-day the vessel shall be launched!
With fleecy clouds the sky is blanched,        5
        And o’er the bay,
Slowly, in all his splendors dight,
The great sun rises to behold the sight.
        The ocean old,
        Centuries old,        10
Strong as youth, and as uncontrolled,
  Paces restless to and fro,
Up and down the sands of gold.
His beating heart is not at rest;
        And far and wide,        15
        With ceaseless flow,
        His beard of snow
Heaves with the heaving of his breast.
He waits impatient for his bride.
        There she stands,        20
With her foot upon the sands,
Decked with flags and streamers gay,
In honor of her marriage day,
Her snow-white signals fluttering, blending,
Round her like a veil descending,        25
        Ready to be
  The bride of the gray old sea.
On the deck another bride
Is standing by her lover’s side.
Shadows from the flags and shrouds,        30
Like the shadows cast by clouds,
Broken by many a sunny fleck,
Fall around them on the deck.
        The prayer is said.
        The service read,        35
The joyous bridegroom bows his head;
And in tears the good old Master
Shakes the brown hand of his son,
Kisses his daughter’s glowing cheek
In silence, for he cannot speak,        40
        And ever faster
Down his own the tears begin to run.
        The worthy pastor—
The shepherd of that wandering flock
That has the ocean for its wold,        45
That has the vessel for its fold,
Leaping ever from rock to rock—
Spake, with accents mild and clear,
Words of warning, words of cheer,
But tedious to the bridegroom’s ear.        50
        He knew the chart
        Of the sailor’s heart,
All its pleasures and its griefs,
All its shallows and rocky reefs,
All those secret currents, that flow        55
With such resistless undertow,
And lift and drift, with terrible force,
The will from its moorings and its course.
Therefore he spake, and thus said he:—
“Like unto ships far off at sea,        60
Outward or homeward bound, are we.
Before, behind, and all around,
Floats and swings the horizon’s bound,
Seems at its distant rim to rise
And climb the crystal wall of the skies,        65
And then again to turn and sink,
As if we could slide from its outer brink.
    Ah! it is not the sea,
It is not the sea that sinks and shelves,
        But ourselves        70
        That rock and rise
With endless and uneasy motion,
  Now touching the very skies,
Now sinking into the depths of ocean.
Ah! if our souls but poise and swing        75
Like the compass in its brazen ring,
  Ever level and ever true
To the toil and the task we have to do,
We shall sail securely, and safely reach
The Fortunate Isles, on whose shining beach        80
The sights we see, and the sounds we hear,
Will be those of joy and not of fear!”
        Then the Master,
    With a gesture of command,
        Waved his hand;        85
        And at the word,
    Loud and sudden there was heard,
    All around them and below,
The sound of hammers, blow on blow,
Knocking away the shores and spurs.        90
        And see! she stirs!
She starts,—she moves,—she seems to feel
The thrill of life along her keel,
And, spurning with her foot the ground,
With one exulting, joyous bound,        95
She leaps into the ocean’s arms!
And lo! from the assembled crowd
There rose a shout, prolonged and loud,
That to the ocean seemed to say,
“Take her, O bridegroom, old and gray,        100
Take her to thy protecting arms,
With all her youth and all her charms!”
How beautiful she is! How fair
  She lies within those arms, that press
  Her form with many a soft caress        105
Of tenderness and watchful care!
  Sail forth into the sea, O ship!
Through wind and wave, right onward steer!
  The moistened eye, the trembling lip,
Are not the signs of doubt or fear.        110
Sail forth into the sea of life,
O gentle, loving, trusting wife,
And safe from all adversity
Upon the bosom of that sea
Thy comings and thy goings be!        115
For gentleness and love and trust
Prevail o’er angry wave and gust:
And in the wreck of noble lives
Something immortal still survives!
Thou, too, sail on, O Ship of State!        120
Sail on, O UNION, strong and great!
  Humanity with all its fears,
  With all the hopes of future years,
Is hanging breathless on thy fate!
We know what Master laid thy keel,        125
What Workman wrought thy ribs of steel,
Who made each mast, and sail, and rope,
  What anvils rang, what hammers beat,
  In what a forge and what a heat
Were shaped the anchors of thy hope!        130
Fear not each sudden sound and shock,—
’Tis of the wave and not the rock;
’Tis but the flapping of the sail,
And not a rent made by the gale!
In spite of rock and tempest’s roar,        135
In spite of false lights on the shore,
  Sail on, nor fear to breast the sea!
  Our hearts, our hopes, are all with thee;
Our hearts, our hopes, our prayers, our tears,
Our faith triumphant o’er our fears,        140
  Are all with thee,—are all with thee!

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