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Poem by Joyce Kilmer
The White Ships and the Red
(For Alden March) With drooping sail and pennant That never a wind may reach, They float in sunless waters Beside a sunless beach. Their mighty masts and funnels Are white as driven snow, And with a pallid radiance Their ghostly bulwarks glow. Here is a Spanish galleon That once with gold was gay, Here is a Roman trireme Whose hues outshone the day. But Tyrian dyes have faded, And prows that once were bright With rainbow stains wear only Death’s livid, dreadful white. White as the ice that clove her That unforgotten day, Among her pallid sisters The grim Titanic lay. And through the leagues above her She looked aghast, and said: ”What is this living ship that comes Where every ship is dead?” The ghostly vessels trembled From ruined stern to prow; What was this thing of terror That broke their vigil now? Down through the startled ocean A mighty vessel came, Not white, as all dead ships must be, But red, like living flame! The pale green waves about her Were swiftly, strangely dyed, By the great scarlet stream that flowed From out her wounded side. And all her decks were scarlet And all her shattered crew. She sank among the white ghost ships And stained them through and through. The grim Titanic greeted her ”And who art thou?” she said; ”Why dost thou join our ghostly fleet Arrayed in living red? We are the ships of sorrow Who spend the weary night, Until the dawn of Judgment Day, Obscure and still and white.” ”Nay,” said the scarlet visitor, ”Though I sink through the sea, A ruined thing that was a ship, I sink not as did ye. For ye met with your destiny By storm or rock or fight, So through the lagging centuries Ye wear your robes of white. ”But never crashing iceberg Nor honest shot of foe, Nor hidden reef has sent me The way that I must go. My wound that stains the waters, My blood that is like flame, Bear witness to a loathly deed, A deed without a name. ”I went not forth to battle, I carried friendly men, The children played about my decks, The women sang -- and then -- And then -- the sun blushed scarlet And Heaven hid its face, The world that God created Became a shameful place! ”My wrong cries out for vengeance, The blow that sent me here Was aimed in Hell. My dying scream Has reached Jehovah’s ear. Not all the seven oceans Shall wash away that stain; Upon a brow that wears a crown I am the brand of Cain.” When God’s great voice assembles The fleet on Judgment Day, The ghosts of ruined ships will rise In sea and strait and bay. Though they have lain for ages Beneath the changeless flood, They shall be white as silver, But one -- shall be like blood.
Joyce Kilmer's other poems:
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