Treasure Island

Oliver Wendell Holmes

(1809-1894 / United States)

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Sun and Shadow


As I look from the isle, o'er its billows of green,
To the billows of foam-crested blue,
Yon bark, that afar in the distance is seen,
Half dreaming, my eyes will pursue:
Now dark in the shadow, she scatters the spray
As the chaff in the stroke of the flail;
Now white as the sea-gull, she flies on her way,
The sun gleaming bright on her sail.

Yet her pilot is thinking of dangers to shun,--
Of breakers that whiten and roar;
How little he cares, if in shadow or sun
They see him who gaze from the shore!
He looks to the beacon that looms from the reef,
To the rock that is under his lee,
As he drifts on the blast, like a wind-wafted leaf,
O'er the gulfs of the desolate sea.

Thus drifting afar to the dim-vaulted caves
Where life and its ventures are laid,
The dreamers who gaze while we battle the waves
May see us in sunshine or shade;
Yet true to our course, though the shadows grow dark,
We'll trim our broad sail as before,
And stand by the rudder that governs the bark,
Nor ask how we look from the shore!

Submitted: Tuesday, December 31, 2002

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Read poems about / on: sunshine, sea, dark, green, sun, wind, life, dream

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Comments about this poem (Sun and Shadow by Oliver Wendell Holmes )

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  • David L. Hatton (3/13/2014 3:42:00 PM)

    The tests and tasks of life are tough; we get through them best by a determined focus to meet the challenges, not to greet the spectators. (Report) Reply

  • Eva Golden (3/13/2014 12:49:00 PM)

    Makes me think of a dreamer, always imagining different scenes but always looking from the shore. (Report) Reply

  • Joseph Poewhit (3/13/2010 11:56:00 PM)

    Poem brings home the glory of the era, of wooden sail ships. [ wooden ships and iron men ] (Report) Reply

  • Robert Edwards (3/13/2010 1:58:00 PM)

    i like your use of words and the format of the poem
    but too much was goin on
    and i didnt get the message (Report) Reply

  • Michael Pruchnicki (3/13/2010 1:51:00 PM)

    You can stand on the shore and admire the scene, the speaker says, as though it were an oil painting hanging before you on the wall! There she sails through the buffeting waves, a tall ship majestic in its glory, the sun-sparkled waves dancing! But imagine yourself piloting that ship, the speaker cautions, and your viewpoint is bound to include all the hidden dangers that lurk beneath that choppy sea. Then you are not aware of spectators and you don't care about what the ship looks like to the one who merely stands and observes. You must be alert and earnest in your duty to pilot the vessel through thick and thin.

    Life is like that, the speaker intimates, the best laid plans must be executed with due diligence. Those who merely gaze on the sight, beautiful or rousing though it be, cannot know the reality of life's challenges! (Report) Reply

  • Terence George Craddock (3/13/2010 10:24:00 AM)

    Sun and Shadow by Oliver Wendell Holmes has exceptionally well crafted beauty of imagery and line, yet is a wealth of descriptive sailing observation and lore.
    ‘Yet her pilot is thinking of dangers to shun, -
    Of breakers that whiten and roar;
    How little he cares, if in shadow or sun’ reminds of the huge responsibility for ship and souls aboard the pilot assumes. He has no time to waste, he is intent upon ‘the beacon that looms from the reef’ and obviously must be ready at an instant and with exact timing, to guide the ship skillfully as wind and reef or rock beneath dictate. There is no room for hubris ‘As he drifts on the blast, like a wind-wafted leaf, and unlike a later titanic r maritime disaster, over confidence never distracts him from any possible dangers.
    Others on the shore have time to dream and admire the beauty, of this practical demonstration of skill, and the inherent interaction of a constructed ship interacting with laws of nature. Those working on ship must trim broad sail and ‘stand by the rudder that governs the bark, ’ because as ‘though the shadows grow dark, ’ implies; a ships crew must guard their ship from danger, day or night, in all weathers, pass all obstacles. A truly wonderful poem. (Report) Reply

  • Ramesh T A (3/13/2010 1:11:00 AM)

    Nice picture of a ship sailing on the wide open sea is depicted on a beautiful wave like rhythmic poem to read! The poem moves smooth as a ship on the sea! (Report) Reply

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