The Fleet

by George Sterling (1869–1926)

Stand Fast!  Though steel on clanging steel
Make the contending turret reel;
    Though stern as Hell the battle-blast,
    From merciless horizons cast—
Annihilation’s breath—
Thunder no word but “Death!”
    Yea! though the blind sea rave
    And all its gulfs gape eager as the grave,
Sure of your flesh at last,
O human hearts! stand fast!
    And though untested nerve and sinew shrink,
    Trapped and astounded at the final brink—
Tho’ hostile guns the march to silence toll,
Beyond it lies the goal,
And past the moment’s tremor smiles the soul.

O brother hearts and brave,
We know you strong to save,
    And strong to serve the Star
    That past the dusk of war
Imperishable gleams,
And O! how little seems
    The price of death men wait so glad to pay
    To hold undesecrated every ray!
To serve thro’ many nights
The youngest of the Lights
    Until it burns sublime
From uncontested heights—
    The whitest beacon on the coasts of Time!

Behold her, our dear country, where she stands
    Beneath the unconquered skies,
The sword and trumpet in her sheathéd hands,
    But mercy in her eyes!
Behold her gates
    That bar the loyal sea,
    Foaming upon her threshholds ceaselessly,
Each messenger that waits
Armed for conclusive fates—
    Angels of death made mighty to fulfil
    ’Mid thunderings her will!
Behold all these and know her wisdom’s length,
Her beauty and her strength,
    And know that farther skies
    Age-hence shall see her rise,
Hesperus of the high and starry plan
    When nations sit unarmored at the feast,
    Of freedom, West and East,
Leagued in the deathless faith of men with Man.

Sterling, George.  The House of Orchids and Other Poems.  (San Francisco:  A. M. Robertson, 1911).

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