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When The Great Gray Ships Come In -- Guy Wetmore Carryl

A week after the signing of the treaty of peace with Spain, Sampson's fleet
came into New York harbor.
(Poem #1727) When The Great Gray Ships Come In
 To eastward ringing, to westward winging, o'er mapless miles of 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 a 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 ships round heads 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!
-- Guy Wetmore Carryl
       August 20, 1898

Having long been a fan of Carryl's humorous poems, it was interesting here
to see him turn his hand to "stirring" verse. What was underscored for me
was that the same talents that made him such a master of the former genre
stood him in good stead here too - above all, the understanding that rhyme
and metre are not mere adjuncts to a poem, but, often, its very heartbeat.

The poem conveys its central emotion very well indeed, but despite the
superficial reference to peace, that emotion is not really the relief of
peace - rather, it is the heady exultation of victory. This is an
incontrovertibly martial poem, swept along by the anapests and internal
rhymes, by the constant reference  to the foe and the turbulent images like
"And the long gray miles slip swiftly past in a swirl of seething foam".

And, ultimately, this is a patriotic poem - a poem where

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

And if Carryl does tap a rather easy source of emotion and imagery, he does
so exquisitely well. The only problem with the poem is that, despite its
excellent execution, it ends up sounding very generic. I enjoyed reading it,
but (in sharp contrast to the brilliant humorous poems we've already run), I
cannot call it in any way memorable.



Bob Blair calls the poem "almost a primer of American patriotism" - his
explanation is well worth a read:

Previous Carryl poems on Minstrels:
  [broken link]

Spanish American War:

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