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 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 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,
With lifted 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 kept his deck,
And peered through darkness. Ah, that night
Of all dark nights! And then a speck—
A light! a light! a light! a light!
It grew; a starlit 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!”