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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

From ‘The Ship in the Desert’

By Joaquin (Cincinnatus Hiner) Miller (1837–1913)

A CHIEF from out the desert’s rim

Rode swift as twilight swallows swim,

Or eagle blown from eyrie nest.

His trim-limbed steed was black as night;

His long black hair had blossomed white

With feathers from the koko’s crest;

His iron face was flushed and red,

His eyes flashed fire as he fled,—

For he had seen unsightly things,

Had felt the flapping of their wings.

A wild and wiry man was he,

This tawny chief of Shoshonee;

And oh, his supple steed was fleet!

About his breast flapped panther-skins;

About his eager flying feet

Flapped beaded, braided moccasins;

He rode as rides the hurricane;

He seemed to swallow up the plain;

He rode as never man did ride,—

He rode, for ghosts rode at his side;

And on his right a grizzled, grim—

No, no, this tale is not of him.

An Indian warrior lost his way

While prowling on this desert’s edge

In fragrant sage and prickly hedge,

When suddenly he saw a sight,

And turned his steed in eager flight.

He rode right through the edge of day,

He rode into the rolling night.

He leaned, he reached an eager face,

His black wolf-skin flapped out and in,

And tiger claws on tiger-skin

Held seat and saddle to its place;

But that gray ghost that clutched thereat—

Arrête! the tale is not of that.

A chieftain touched the desert’s rim

One autumn eve; he rode alone,

And still as moon-made shadows swim.

He stopped, he stood as still as stone;

He leaned, he looked, there glistened bright

From out the yellow yielding sand

A golden cup with jeweled rim.

He leaned him low, he reached a hand,

He caught it up, he galloped on.

He turned his head, he saw a sight …

His panther-skins flew to the wind,

The dark, the desert lay behind;

The tawny Ishmaelite was gone;

But something sombre as death is—

Tut, tut! the tale is not of this.

A mountaineer, storm-stained and brown,

From farthest desert touched the town;

And striding through the crowd, held up

Above his head a jeweled cup.

He put two fingers to his lip,

He whispered wild, he stood a-tip,

And leaned the while with lifted hand,

And said, “A ship lies yonder, dead;”

And said, “Doubloons lie sown in sand

In yon far desert dead and brown,

Beyond where wave-washed walls look down,

As thick as stars set overhead.

That three ship-masts uplift like trees—”

Away! the tale is not of these.

An Indian hunter held a plate

Of gold above his lifted head,

Around which kings had sat in state.

“’Tis from that desert ship,” they said,

“That sails with neither sail nor breeze,

Or galleon, that sank below

Of old, in olden dried-up seas,

Ere yet the red men drew the bow.”

But wrinkled women wagged the head,

And walls of warriors sat that night

In black, nor streak of battle red,

Around against the red camp-light;

And told such wondrous tales as these

Of wealth within their dried-up seas.

And one, girt well in tiger’s skin,

Who stood, like Saul, above the rest,

With dangling claws about his breast,

A belt without, a blade within,—

A warrior with a painted face,

And lines that shadowed stern and grim,—

Stood pointing east from his high place,

And hurling thought like cannon shot,

Stood high with visage flushed and hot—

But stay! this tale is not of him.


The day glared through the eastern rim

Of rocky peaks, as prison bars;

With light as dim as distant stars

The sultry sunbeams filtered down

Through misty phantoms weird and dim,

Through shifting shapes bat-winged and brown.

Like some vast ruin wrapped in flame,

The sun fell down before them now.

Behind them wheeled white peaks of snow,

As they proceeded.
Gray and grim

And awful objects went and came

Before them then. They pierced at last

The desert’s middle depths, and lo!

There loomed from out the desert vast

A lonely ship, well-built and trim,

And perfect all in hull and mast.

No storm had stained it any whit,

No seasons set their teeth in it.

Her masts were white as ghosts, and tall;

Her decks were as of yesterday.

The rains, the elements, and all

The moving things that bring decay

By fair green lands or fairer seas,

Had touched not here for centuries.

Lo! date had lost all reckoning;

And Time had long forgotten all

In this lost land, and no new thing

Or old could anywise befall,—

Or morrows or a yesterday,—

For Time went by the other way.

The ages had not any course

Across this untracked waste.
The sky

Wears here one blue, unbending hue,

The heavens one unchanging mood.

The far, still stars, they filter through

The heavens, falling bright and bold

Against the sands as beams of gold.

The wide white moon forgets her force;

The very sun rides round and high,

As if to shun this solitude.

What dreams of gold or conquest drew

The oak-built sea-king to these seas,

Ere Earth, old Earth, unsatisfied,

Rose up and shook man in disgust

From off her wearied breast, and threw

And smote his cities down, and dried

These measured, town-set seas to dust?

Who trod these decks?
What captain knew

The straits that led to lands like these?

Blew south-sea breeze or north-sea breeze?

What spiced winds whistled through this sail?

What banners streamed above these seas?

And what strange seamen answered back

To other sea-king’s beck and hail,

That blew across his foamy track?

Sought Jason here the golden fleece?

Came Trojan ship or ships of Greece?

Came decks dark-manned from sultry Ind,

Wooed here by spacious wooing wind,—

So like a grand, sweet woman, when

A great love moves her soul to men?

Came here strong ships of Solomon

In quest of Ophir by Cathay?

Sit down and dream of seas withdrawn,

And every sea-breath drawn away—

Sit down, sit down!
What is the good

That we go on still fashioning

Great iron ships or walls of wood,

High masts of oak, or anything?

Lo! all things moving must go by.

The sea lies dead. Behold, this land

Sits desolate in dust beside

His snow-white, seamless shroud of sand;

The very clouds have wept and died,

And only God is in the sky.