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James and Mary Ford, eds. Every Day in the Year. 1902.

August 20

When the Great Gray Ships Come in

By Guy Wetmore Carryl (1873–1904)

New York Harbor, August 20, 1898

TO eastward ringing, to westward winging, o’er miles of mapless sea,

On winds and tides the gospel rides that the furthermost isles are free,

And the furthermost isles make answer, harbor, and height, and hill.

Breaker and beach cry each to each,

“’Tis the Mother who calls! Be still!”

Mother! new-found, beloved, and strong to hold from harm,

Stretching to these across the seas the shield of her sovereign arm,

Who summoned the guns of her sailor sons, who bade her navies roam,

Who calls again to the leagues of main, and who calls them this time Home!

And the great gray ships are silent, and the weary watchers rest,

The black cloud dies in the August skies, and deep in the golden west

Invisible hands are limning a glory of crimson bars,

And far above is the wonder of a myriad wakened stars!

Peace! As the tidings silence the strenuous cannonade,

Peace at last! is the bugle blast the length of the long blockade,

And eyes of vigil weary are lit with the glad release,

From ship to ship and from lip to lip it is “Peace! Thank God for peace.”

Ah, in the sweet hereafter Columbia still shall show

The sons of these who swept the seas how she bade them rise and go,—

How, when the stirring summons smote on her children’s ear,

South and North at the call stood forth, and the whole land answered, “Here!”

For the soul of the soldier’s story and the heart of the sailor’s song

Are all of those who meet their foes as right should meet with wrong,

Who fight their guns till the foeman runs, and then, on the decks they trod,

Brave faces raise, and give the praise to the grace of their country’s God!

Yes, it is good to battle, and good to be strong and free,

To carry the hearts of the people to the uttermost ends of sea,

To see the day steal up the bay where the enemy lies in wait,

To run your ship to the harbor’s lip and sink her across the strait:—

But better the golden evening when the ship heads round for home,

And the long gray miles slip swiftly past in a swirl of seething foam,

And the people wait at the haven’s gate to greet the men who win!

Thank God for peace! Thank God for peace, when the great gray ships come in!