Later Poems

by Bliss Carman


The Ships of Saint John


WHERE are the ships I used to know,
    That came to port on the Fundy tide
Half a century ago,
    In beauty and stately pride?

In they would come past the beacon light,

    With the sun on gleaming sail and spar,
Folding their wings like a birds in flight
    From countries strange and far.

Schooner and brig and barkentine,
    I watched them slow as the sails were furled,

And wondered what cities they must have seen
    On the other side of the world.

Frenchman and Britisher and Dane,
    Yankee, Spaniard and Portugee,
And many a home ship back again

    With her stories of the sea.

Calm and victorious, at rest
    From the relentless, rough sea-play,
The wild duck on the river’s breast
    Was not more sure than they.


The creatures of a passing race,
    The dark spruce forests made them strong,
The sea’s lore gave them magic grace,
    The great winds taught them song.

And God endowed them each with life—

    His blessing on the craftsman’s skill—
To meet the blind unreasoned strife
    And dare the risk of ill.

Not mere insensate wood and paint
    Obedient to the helm’s command,

But often restive as a saint
    Beneath the Heavenly hand.

All the beauty and mystery
    Of life were there, adventure bold,
Youth, and the glamour of the sea

    And all its sorrows old.

And many a time I saw them go
    Out on the flood at morning brave,
As the little tugs had them in tow,
    And the sunlight danced on the wave.


There all day long you could hear the sound
    Of the caulking iron, the ship’s bronze bell,
And the clank of the capstan going round
    As the great tides rose and fell.

The sailors’ songs, the Captain’s shout,

    The boatswain’s whistle piping shrill,
And the roar as the anchor chain runs out,—
    I often hear them still.

I can see them still, the sun on their gear,
    The shining streak as the hulls careen,

And the flag at the peak unfurling,— clear
    As a picture on a screen.

The fog still hangs on the long tide-rips,
    The gulls go wavering to and fro,
But where are all the beautiful ships

    I knew so long ago?