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

Robert Barry Coffin (“Barry Gray”) (1826–1886)

Ships at Sea

I HAVE ships that went to sea

More than fifty years ago:

None have yet come home to me,

But keep sailing to and fro.

I have seen them in my sleep,

Plunging through the shoreless deep,

With tattered sails and battered hulls,

While around them screamed the gulls,

Flying low, flying low.

I have wondered where they stayed

From me, sailing round the world;

And I’ve said, “I’m half afraid

That their sails will ne’er be furled.”

Great the treasures that they hold,—

Silks and plumes, and bars of gold;

While the spices which they bear

Fill with fragrance all the air,

As they sail, as they sail.

Every sailor in the port

Knows that I have ships at sea,

Of the waves and winds the sport;

And the sailors pity me.

Oft they come and with me walk,

Cheering me with hopeful talk,

Till I put my fears aside,

And contented watch the tide

Rise and fall, rise and fall.

I have waited on the piers,

Gazing from them down the bay,

Days and nights for many years,

Till I turned heart-sick away,

But the pilots when they land

Stop and take me by the hand,

Saying, “You will live to see

Your proud vessels come from sea,

One and all, one and all.”

So I never quite despair,

Nor let hope or courage fail;

And some day when skies are fair,

Up the bay my ship will sail.

I can buy then all I need,—

Prints to look at, books to read,

Horses, wines, and works of art,

Everything except a heart:

That is lost, that is lost.

Once when I was pure and young,

Poorer, too, than I am now,

Ere a cloud was o’er me flung,

Or a wrinkle creased my brow,

There was one whose heart was mine;

But she’s something now divine;—

And though come my ships from sea,

They can bring no heart to me,

Evermore, evermore.