May 19, 2012

A home on the rolling sea!

The New York Mirror's issue for May 19, 1838 included a poem published under the pseudonym "Zeta." The real author was Epes Sargent, who was then living in New York. One day, walking with his friend, the English composer Henry Russell, he was inspired to write the poem after witnessing the ships in the harbor (Sargent had also grown up by the sea in Gloucester, Massachusetts). Russell soon set the poem to music and it became one of Sargent's most famous works. "A Life on the Ocean Wave" became the frequent song performed at the launching of ships and remains the unofficial song of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy.

A life on the ocean wave,
    A home on the rolling deep,
Where the scattered waters rave,
    And the winds their revels keep!
Like an eagle caged, I pine
    On this dull, unchanging shore:
Oh! give me the flashing brine,
    The spray and the tempest's roar!

Once more on the deck I stand
    Of my own swift-gliding craft:
Set sail! farewell to the land!
    The gale follows fair abaft.
We shoot through the sparkling foam
    Like an ocean-bird set free; -
Like the ocean-bird, our home
    We'll find far out on the sea.

The land is no longer in view,
    The clouds have begun to frown;
But with a stout vessel and crew,
    We'll say, Let the storm come down!
And the song of our hearts shall be,
    While the winds and the waters rave,
A home on the rolling sea!
    A life on the ocean wave!

*Some of the information in this post comes from Martin Gardner's Famous Poems from Bygone Days (1895). The book is an entertaining (and affordable!) collection of forgotten gems, including many of my personal favorites.

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