The Farthest Voyage

UPON a voyage soon must thou be gone,
Longer than admiral e’er sailed. Thou, who
Art all unskilled to manage ship or helm,
Without a chart or azimuth or clue,
Thyself the pilot and the crew,
Art called to rival and outdo
The mighty captains of the watery realm, —
Columbus, Madoc, Hudson, De Leon.
The hour approaches, near or far,
The ship will clear the harbor bar;
The pilot, watching with keen eyes,
Will see the lights of land he steered by fast
Vanish and sink behind the mast,
And like a lighted city left astern
The world on the horizon cease to burn,
And feel the deck in grasp of Ocean sink and rise,
While in his face the mists of the Unknown
Fall damp, as though by some great trade-wind blown.
Is there a word to say or sing
To which the heart may cling,
When, anchor up, the final start is near,
And one by one the harbor-lanterns disappear, —
A saying large enough, a prophet’s dole,
To serve as compass for the soul,
When naught is left aloft, before, behind,
Save endless paths of wave and star and wind ?
Hear what the stars revealed to me,
The secret of the sea.
Who for the condor reared the Andes’ crest
Hath many a summit where the soul of man may nest.
Arcturus keeps a hidden saying for my ear,
Aldebaran hath that to tell which I must hear.
Offshore a friendly gale
Awaits to swell the sail
And steer the bark afar
To friendly ports in orb and star.
This is the secret sweet
Whose knowledge fires the stars and waves the wheat.
'T is what the meadow knows
In spring when the arbutus blows,
Nor quite forgets amid December’s gloom.
It is the secret of the corn-flower’s hue
And of the heaven’s blue.
I learned it on the hillside where I lay,
When in the hazy, long September day
A million asters burst in bloom,
A million spikes of goldenrod
Lifted heads and smiled in the face of God.
I learned it when Katahdin’s pinnacle
Bore me all night amid the vast
From star to star, — each as it passed
Saluting me and crying, All is well ! —
Until night ended, and the dawn
On the horizon lay uncurled,
A great, lit haven, whither, near and nearer drawn,
The globe, as some great ship with canvas furled,
Arriving, damp with the night dew,
On every side a pæan grew
Of welcome, welcome home !
And louder yet from gulf and crimsoning dome
Day’s thousand trumpets blew
Wild welcome to the world.
Ay, as God lives, a sweetness greater than we know
Abides in death, as zones of summer bud and blow
Undreamed of while men shiver in a hut of snow.
There is prepared a mightier surprise
Than any dares to dream, or hope for, or surmise.
William Prescott Foster.