THE YOUNG SHIPS SAIL AWAY

There are some poems that are little-remembered, often because something is not quite right in them, but yet a line or a few lines will stick in the mind — though perhaps recalled not quite correctly — like the flash of a gemstone partly hidden in a matrix of lesser rock.

And then, when one tries to find such a poem, it is devilishly difficult!  Here is a prime example, by Gerald Louis Gould (1885-1936):

Wander-Thirst

Beyond the East the sunrise, beyond the West the sea,
And East and West the wander-thirst that will not let me be;
It works in me like madness, dear, to bid me say good-by!
For the seas call and the stars call, and oh, the call of the sky!

I know not where the white road runs, nor what the blue hills are,
But man can have the sun for friend, and for his guide a star;
And there’s no end of voyaging when once the voice is heard,
For the river calls and the road calls, and oh, the call of a bird!

Yonder the long horizon lies, and there by night and day
The old ships draw to home again, the young ships sail away;
And come I may, but go I must, and if men ask you why,
You may put the blame on the stars and the sun and the white road and the sky!

I first encountered this poem years ago, when I was interested in the life and wanderings of the herbalist Juliette de Bairacli-Levy, herself a wanderer in life.  But what struck me was only these lines:

Yonder the long horizon lies, and there by night and day
The old ships draw to home again, the young ships sail away;

Why those?  I suppose because they encompass so much in so small a space as metaphor.  In those two lines is all of life — youth and old age, the cycle of setting forth on the voyage of life in youth, and inevitably, at last, coming home in age to end one’s voyaging days.  It is life and death.
Nothing in the rest, unfortunately, quite matches the strength of those two lines, and perhaps that is why the poem is generally forgotten today.
David
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