"Sail On, O Ship Of State!"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Longfellow describes in detail the building and launching of a ship and then makes the ship a symbol of the United States. The poem had great influence in awakening Americans to the importance of the Union. An old Master vows to build a strong ship that "should laugh at all disaster,/ And with wave and whirlwind wrestle!" Helping the old builder is a youth who will soon marry the Master's daughter. The vessel, symbolically named the Union, is built of "only what is sound and strong." At night, the young man and the maiden sit and listen to the old Master's tales of life at sea. The ship is finally completed, and the carving on the bow is "modelled from the Master's daughter! . . . And at the mast-head,/ White, blue, and red,/ A flag unrolls the stripes and stars." On "the bridal day/ Of beauty and of strength," the boy marries the girl, and the ship is wedded to "the gray old sea." Describing the launching, the poet blesses the ship, the newlyweds ("Sail forth into the sea of life . . ."), and a symbolic ship:

Thou, too, sail on, O Ship of State!
Sail on, O UNION, strong and great!
Humanity with all its fears,
With all the hopes of future years,
Is hanging breathless on thy fate!
We know what Master laid thy keel,
What Workmen wrought thy ribs of steel,
Who made each mast, and sail, and rope,
What anvils rang, what hammers beat,
In what a forge and what a heat
Were shaped the anchors of thy hope!