August 20, 2010

When the Great Gray Ships Come In

The Spanish-American War was halted in mid-August 1898 when a Protocol of Peace between Spain and the United States was signed. A squadron of American ships returned to New York Harbor on August 20, 1898. Guy Wetmore Carryl, mostly known as a humorist (if you can say he is known at all), wrote a poem commemorating their arrival, "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
Peace at last! is the bugle blast the length of
     the long blockade,
And eyes of vigil weary are lit with the glad
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!

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