How many sailors and maritime professionals would spare some time to read poems? Not many, I suppose. Poetry won’t fill anyone’s pocket any more than viewing Ivan Aivazovsky’s sublime 1874 painting, Brig Mercury in Moonlight (pictured above), would. But it can do something else, something more important. American poet W.H. Auden summed it up in his tribute to a fellow poet, In Memory of W. B. Yeats:

With the farming of a verse
Make a vineyard of the curse,
Sing of human unsuccess
In a rapture of distress;

In the deserts of the heart
Let the healing fountain start,
In the prison of his days
Teach the free man how to praise.

The following poems by four of the world’s beloved poets all speak of sailing in a metaphorical sense. I hope they inspire the readers of Marine Café Blog, especially those who work at sea, to “sing of human unsuccess” and drink from the “healing fountain”. 

Sail On, Sail

by Thomas Moore (Irish, 1779–1852) 

Sail on, sail on, thou fearless bark —
Where’er blows the welcome wind,
It cannot lead to scenes more dark,
More sad than those we leave behind.
Each wave that passes seems to say,
“Though death beneath our smile may be,
Less cold we are, less false than they,
Whose smiling wreck’d thy hopes and thee.”

Sail on, sail on — through endless space —
Through calm — through tempest — stop no more:
The stormiest sea’s a resting-place
To him who leaves such hearts on shore.
Or — if some desert land we meet,
Where never yet false-hearted men
Profaned a world, that else were sweet —
Then rest thee, bark, but not till then.


At Sea

by Sara Teasdale  (American, 1884–1933)

In the pull of the wind I stand, lonely,
On the deck of a ship, rising, falling,
Wild night around me, wild water under me,
Whipped by the storm, screaming and calling.

Earth is hostile and the sea hostile,
Why do I look for a place to rest?
I must fight always and die fighting
With fear an unhealing wound in my breast.


Sail Away

By Rabindranath Tagore (Indian, 1861–1941)

Early in the day it was whispered that we should sail in a boat,
only thou and I, and never a soul in the world would know of this our
pilgrimage to no country and to no end.

In that shoreless ocean,
at thy silently listening smile my songs would swell in melodies,
free as waves, free from all bondage of words.

Is the time not come yet?
Are there works still to do?
Lo, the evening has come down upon the shore
and in the fading light the seabirds come flying to their nests.

Who knows when the chains will be off,
and the boat, like the last glimmer of sunset,
vanish into the night?


Setting Sail

By Emily Dickinson (American, 1830 1886) 

Exultation is the going
Of an inland soul to sea, —
Past the houses, past the headlands,
Into deep eternity!

Bred as we, among the mountains,
Can the sailor understand
The divine intoxication
Of the first league out from land?

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