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.
Brave Adm’r’l, speak! What shall we 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 Adm’r’l, 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 Adm’r’l, speak and say —“
He said: “Sail on! sail on! and on!”
They sailed. They sailed. Then spake the mate:
“This mad sea shows his teeth tonight.
He curls his lip, he lies in wait,
He lifts his teeth as if to bite!
Brave Adm’r’l, say but one good word:
What shall we do when hope is gone?”
The words leapt like a leaping sword:
“Sail on! sail on! sail on! and on!”
Then pale and worn, he paced his deck,
And peered through darkness. Ah, that night
Of all dark nights! And then the speck –
A light! A light! At last a light!
It grew, a starlit flag unfurled!
It grew to be Time’s burst of dawn.
He gained a world; he gave the world
Its grandest lesson: “On! sail on!”