Mar. 9, 2007

O Ship of State

by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "O Ship of State" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, from The Poetical Works of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. © Houghton Mifflin. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

O Ship of State

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!
Fear not each sudden sound and shock,
'Tis of the wave and not the rock;
'Tis but the flapping of the sail,
And not a rent made by the gale!
In spite of rock and tempest's roar,
In spite of false lights on the shore,
Sail on, nor fear to breast the sea!
Our hearts, our hopes, are all with thee.
Our hearts, our hopes, our prayers, our tears,
Our faith triumphant o'er our fears,
Are all with thee, — are all with thee!

Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1913 that Virginia Woolf (books by this author) delivered the manuscript for her first novel, The Voyage Out, to the Duckworth Publishing House. She had been working on it for almost seven years. She first mentioned it in a letter in 1907. By 1912, she had written five drafts of the novel, including two different versions that she worked on simultaneously. Between December 1912 and March 1913, she rewrote the entire novel one more time, almost from scratch, typing 600 pages in two months.

The book was finally accepted, and then she had to work on correcting the proofs. She found the experience of re-reading her own work in print almost unbearable. She had a nervous breakdown, and spent two years recovering. The Voyage Out was eventually published in 1915, but it didn't sell well. It took 15 years to sell 2,000 copies. Critics don't consider it a great work, but among the novel's cast of characters is a woman named Clarissa Dalloway, a character who would stick in Virginia Woolf's mind for more than a decade, until she wrote an entire novel about that woman called Mrs. Dalloway (1927).

It's the birthday of Vita Sackville-West, (books by this author) born in Knole, England (1892). She was a friend and a lover of Virginia Woolf's, and she inspired Woolf's novel Orlando.

Aside from writing novels, Sackville-West was also one of the first great gardening writers. At the time that she began to keep her own garden, gardening was considered a masculine hobby, and most members of the British upper class employed gardeners to do all the actual work. But Vita Sackville-West started writing in a column in The Observer about the joys of digging around in the dirt, pulling weeds, and arranging the flowers herself. Her column helped persuaded many people to start their own gardens.

It's the birthday of one of the most popular novelists of all time, Mickey Spillane, (books by this author) the pen name of Frank Morrison, born in Brooklyn, New York (1918). His first novel, I, the Jury, came out in 1947, and it introduced his famous detective Mike Hammer.

It was on this day in 1933 that newly inaugurated President Franklin D. Roosevelt called a special session of Congress and began the first hundred days of enacting his New Deal legislation.

It was the Great Depression. A quarter of the American workforce was unemployed. The prices for industrial goods and agricultural products were falling. There were breadlines in every major city for all the unemployed and hungry. Thousands of people roamed the country on freight trains looking for odd jobs and handouts. Banks were failing at an unprecedented rate, and millions of Americans had lost all or part of their savings.

So people were shocked by Roosevelt's cheerful demeanor when they saw him just before his inauguration. He was facing one of the most difficult domestic situations in the country's history, but he seemed excited about it. At his first press conference, on March 8, 1933, the reporters were surprised that the new president actually talked to them. Almost all previous presidents had refused to talk off the cuff with reporters, but Franklin Roosevelt didn't mind answering all kinds of questions about what he planned to do for the country's problems.

And then on this day in 1933 he called Congress into session. He had Democratic majorities in both houses. The first piece of legislation the President proposed was the Emergency Banking Act. Even though no one had a chance to examine it in detail, the bill passed after forty minutes of debate. For the next few months, bills were passed almost daily. Among the new federal programs created were the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, which distributed half a billion dollars to the poor; the Civilian Conservation Corps, which employed people to work on forestry projects; the Public Works Administration, which employed people to build bridges, dams and roads all across the country; the Tennessee Valley Authority, which built and maintained dams on the Tennessee River, controlling flooding and providing cheap energy; and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which provided for the first insurance of banking deposits.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
  • “I want to live other lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.” —Anne Tyler
  • “Writing is a performance, like singing an aria or dancing a jig” —Stephen Greenblatt
  • “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • “Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up.” —John Edgar Wideman
  • “In certain ways writing is a form of prayer.” —Denise Levertov
  • “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Let's face it, writing is hell.” —William Styron
  • “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” —Thomas Mann
  • “Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials.” —Paul Rudnick
  • “Writing is a failure. Writing is not only useless, it's spoiled paper.” —Padget Powell
  • “Writing is very hard work and knowing what you're doing the whole time.” —Shelby Foote
  • “I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it.” —William Carlos Williams
  • “Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck.” —Iris Murdoch
  • “The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is…that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is my dharma.” —Raja Rao
  • “Writing is a combination of intangible creative fantasy and appallingly hard work.” —Anthony Powell
  • “I think writing is, by definition, an optimistic act.” —Michael Cunningham
The Writer's Almanac on Facebook

The Writer's Almanac on Twitter

Subscribe to our daily newsletter for poems, prose and literary history every morning
An interview with Jeffrey Harrison at The Writer's Almanac Bookshelf
Current Faves - Learn more about poets featured frequently on the show
O, What a Luxury

Although he has edited several anthologies of his favorite poems, O, What a Luxury: Verses Lyrical, Vulgar, Pathetic & Profound forges a new path for Garrison Keillor, as a poet of light verse. Purchase O, What a Luxury »