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.
From ‘The Ship in the Desert’
By Joaquin (Cincinnatus Hiner) Miller (1837–1913)
A CHIEF from out the desert’s rim
Rode swift as twilight swallows swim,
  Or eagle blown from eyrie nest.
His trim-limbed steed was black as night;
His long black hair had blossomed white        5
  With feathers from the koko’s crest;
His iron face was flushed and red,
His eyes flashed fire as he fled,—
For he had seen unsightly things,
Had felt the flapping of their wings.        10
A wild and wiry man was he,
This tawny chief of Shoshonee;
  And oh, his supple steed was fleet!
About his breast flapped panther-skins;
About his eager flying feet        15
Flapped beaded, braided moccasins;
He rode as rides the hurricane;
He seemed to swallow up the plain;
He rode as never man did ride,—
He rode, for ghosts rode at his side;        20
And on his right a grizzled, grim—
No, no, this tale is not of him.
  An Indian warrior lost his way
While prowling on this desert’s edge
In fragrant sage and prickly hedge,        25
When suddenly he saw a sight,
And turned his steed in eager flight.
  He rode right through the edge of day,
He rode into the rolling night.
  He leaned, he reached an eager face,        30
His black wolf-skin flapped out and in,
And tiger claws on tiger-skin
  Held seat and saddle to its place;
But that gray ghost that clutched thereat—
Arrête! the tale is not of that.        35
A chieftain touched the desert’s rim
  One autumn eve; he rode alone,
And still as moon-made shadows swim.
  He stopped, he stood as still as stone;
He leaned, he looked, there glistened bright        40
  From out the yellow yielding sand
A golden cup with jeweled rim.
  He leaned him low, he reached a hand,
He caught it up, he galloped on.
He turned his head, he saw a sight …        45
His panther-skins flew to the wind,
The dark, the desert lay behind;
The tawny Ishmaelite was gone;
But something sombre as death is—
Tut, tut! the tale is not of this.        50
A mountaineer, storm-stained and brown,
From farthest desert touched the town;
And striding through the crowd, held up
Above his head a jeweled cup.
He put two fingers to his lip,        55
He whispered wild, he stood a-tip,
  And leaned the while with lifted hand,
    And said, “A ship lies yonder, dead;”
  And said, “Doubloons lie sown in sand
In yon far desert dead and brown,        60
Beyond where wave-washed walls look down,
    As thick as stars set overhead.
That three ship-masts uplift like trees—”
Away! the tale is not of these.
An Indian hunter held a plate        65
  Of gold above his lifted head,
Around which kings had sat in state.
  “’Tis from that desert ship,” they said,
“That sails with neither sail nor breeze,
    Or galleon, that sank below        70
Of old, in olden dried-up seas,
    Ere yet the red men drew the bow.”
  But wrinkled women wagged the head,
And walls of warriors sat that night
  In black, nor streak of battle red,        75
Around against the red camp-light;
And told such wondrous tales as these
Of wealth within their dried-up seas.
  And one, girt well in tiger’s skin,
Who stood, like Saul, above the rest,        80
With dangling claws about his breast,
  A belt without, a blade within,—
A warrior with a painted face,
  And lines that shadowed stern and grim,—
Stood pointing east from his high place,        85
And hurling thought like cannon shot,
Stood high with visage flushed and hot—
  But stay! this tale is not of him.
*        *        *        *        *
  The day glared through the eastern rim
Of rocky peaks, as prison bars;        90
With light as dim as distant stars
The sultry sunbeams filtered down
  Through misty phantoms weird and dim,
Through shifting shapes bat-winged and brown.
Like some vast ruin wrapped in flame,        95
    The sun fell down before them now.
    Behind them wheeled white peaks of snow,
  As they proceeded.
                    Gray and grim
And awful objects went and came
Before them then. They pierced at last        100
  The desert’s middle depths, and lo!
There loomed from out the desert vast
    A lonely ship, well-built and trim,
And perfect all in hull and mast.
No storm had stained it any whit,        105
No seasons set their teeth in it.
Her masts were white as ghosts, and tall;
  Her decks were as of yesterday.
The rains, the elements, and all
  The moving things that bring decay        110
By fair green lands or fairer seas,
Had touched not here for centuries.
Lo! date had lost all reckoning;
  And Time had long forgotten all
In this lost land, and no new thing        115
  Or old could anywise befall,—
Or morrows or a yesterday,—
For Time went by the other way.
The ages had not any course
  Across this untracked waste.
                    The sky
    Wears here one blue, unbending hue,
The heavens one unchanging mood.
    The far, still stars, they filter through
The heavens, falling bright and bold
Against the sands as beams of gold.        125
The wide white moon forgets her force;
  The very sun rides round and high,
As if to shun this solitude.
What dreams of gold or conquest drew
  The oak-built sea-king to these seas,        130
    Ere Earth, old Earth, unsatisfied,
Rose up and shook man in disgust
From off her wearied breast, and threw
    And smote his cities down, and dried
These measured, town-set seas to dust?        135
Who trod these decks?
                What captain knew
  The straits that led to lands like these?
  Blew south-sea breeze or north-sea breeze?
What spiced winds whistled through this sail?
What banners streamed above these seas?        140
  And what strange seamen answered back
    To other sea-king’s beck and hail,
  That blew across his foamy track?
Sought Jason here the golden fleece?
Came Trojan ship or ships of Greece?        145
Came decks dark-manned from sultry Ind,
Wooed here by spacious wooing wind,—
So like a grand, sweet woman, when
A great love moves her soul to men?
Came here strong ships of Solomon        150
  In quest of Ophir by Cathay?
Sit down and dream of seas withdrawn,
  And every sea-breath drawn away—
Sit down, sit down!
                What is the good
  That we go on still fashioning        155
Great iron ships or walls of wood,
  High masts of oak, or anything?
Lo! all things moving must go by.
  The sea lies dead. Behold, this land
    Sits desolate in dust beside        160
  His snow-white, seamless shroud of sand;
    The very clouds have wept and died,
And only God is in the sky.

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