The Home-Voyage

by James Whitcomb Riley

BEAR with us, O Great Captain, if our pride
Show equal measure with our grief’s excess
In greeting you in this your helplessness
To countermand our vanity or hide
Your stern displeasure that we thus had tried
To praise you, knowing praise was your distress:
But this home-coming swells our hearts no less —
Because for love of home you proudly died.
Lo! then, the cable, fathoms ‘neath the keel
That shapes your course, is eloquent of you;
The old flag, too, at half-mast overhead —
We doubt not that its gale-kissed ripples feel
A prouder sense of red and white and blue, —
The stars — Ah, God, were they interpreted!

In strange lands were your latest honors won —
In strange wilds, with strange dangers all beset;
With rain, like tears, the face of day was wet,
As rang the ambushed foeman’s fateful gun:
And as you felt your final duty done,
We feel that glory thrills your spirit yet, —
When at the front, in swiftest death, you met
The patriot’s doom and best reward in one.
And so the tumult of that island war,
At last, for you, is stilled forevermore —
Its scenes of blood blend white as ocean foam
On your rapt vision as you sight afar
The sails of peace, and from that alien shore
The proud ship bears you on your voyage home.

Or rough or smooth the wave, or lowering day
Or starlit sky — you hold, by native right,
Your high tranquillity — the silent might
Of the true hero — so you led the way
To victory through stormiest battle-fray,
Because your followers, high above the fight,
Heard your soul’s lightest whisper bid them smite
For God and man and space to kneel and pray.
And thus you cross the seas unto your own
Beloved land, convoyed with honors meet,
Saluted as your home’s first heritage —
Nor salutation from your State alone,
But all the States, gathered in mighty fleet,
Dip colors as you move to anchor-age.