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Best Famous Henry Van Dyke Poems

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by Henry Van Dyke |

The Glory of Ships

 The glory of ships is an old, old song,
since the days when the sea-rovers ran 
In their open boats through the roaring surf,
and the spread of the world began; 
The glory of ships is a light on the sea,
and a star in the story of man.
When Homer sang of the galleys of Greece that conquered the Trojan shore, And Solomon lauded the barks of Tyre that brought great wealth to his door, 'Twas little they knew, those ancient men, what would come of the sail and the oar.
The Greek ships rescued the West from the East, when they harried the Persians home; And the Roman ships were the wings of strength that bore up the empire, Rome; And the ships of Spain found a wide new world, far over the fields of foam.
Then the tribes of courage at last saw clear that the ocean was not a bound, But a broad highway, and a challenge to seek for treasure as yet unfound; So the fearless ships fared forth to the search, in joy that the globe was round.
Their hulls were heightened, their sails spread out, they grew with the growth of their quest; They opened the secret doors of the East, and the golden gates of the West; And many a city of high renown was proud of a ship on its crest.
The fleets of England and Holland and France were at strife with each other and Spain; And battle and storm sent a myriad ships to sleep in the depths of the main; But the seafaring spirit could never be drowned, and it filled up the fleets again.
They greatened and grew, with the aid of steam, to a wonderful, vast array, That carries the thoughts and the traffic of men into every harbor and bay; And now in the world-wide work of the ships 'tis England that leads the way.
O well for the leading that follows the law of a common right on the sea! But ill for the leader who tries to hold what belongs to mankind in fee! The way of the ships is an open way, and the ocean must ever be free! Remember, O first of the maritime folk, how the rise of your greatness began.
It will live if you safeguard the round-the-world road from the shame of a selfish ban; For the glory of ships is a light on the sea, and a star in the story of man!


by Henry Van Dyke |

The Gentle Traveller

 Through many a land your journey ran,
And showed the best the world can boast:
Now tell me, traveller, if you can,
The place that pleased you most.
" She laid her hands upon my breast, And murmured gently in my ear, "The place I loved and liked the best Was in your arms, my dear!"


by Henry Van Dyke |

The Foolish Fir-Tree

 A tale that the poet Rückert told
To German children, in days of old;
Disguised in a random, rollicking rhyme
Like a merry mummer of ancient time,
And sent, in its English dress, to please
The little folk of the Christmas trees.
A little fir grew in the midst of the wood Contented and happy, as young trees should.
His body was straight and his boughs were clean; And summer and winter the bountiful sheen Of his needles bedecked him, from top to root, In a beautiful, all-the-year, evergreen suit.
But a trouble came into his heart one day, When he saw that the other trees were gay In the wonderful raiment that summer weaves Of manifold shapes and kinds of leaves: He looked at his needles so stiff and small, And thought that his dress was the poorest of all.
Then jealousy clouded the little tree's mind, And he said to himself, "It was not very kind "To give such an ugly old dress to a tree! "If the fays of the forest would only ask me, "I'd tell them how I should like to be dressed,— "In a garment of gold, to bedazzle the rest!" So he fell asleep, but his dreams were bad.
When he woke in the morning, his heart was glad; For every leaf that his boughs could hold Was made of the brightest beaten gold.
I tell you, children, the tree was proud; He was something above the common crowd; And he tinkled his leaves, as if he would say To a pedlar who happened to pass that way, "Just look at me! don't you think I am fine? "And wouldn't you like such a dress as mine?" "Oh, yes!" said the man, "and I really guess I must fill my pack with your beautiful dress.
" So he picked the golden leaves with care, And left the little tree shivering there.
"Oh, why did I wish for golden leaves?" The fir-tree said, "I forgot that thieves "Would be sure to rob me in passing by.
"If the fairies would give me another try, "I'd wish for something that cost much less, "And be satisfied with glass for my dress!" Then he fell asleep; and, just as before, The fairies granted his wish once more.
When the night was gone, and the sun rose clear, The tree was a crystal chandelier; And it seemed, as he stood in the morning light, That his branches were covered with jewels bright.
"Aha!" said the tree.
"This is something great!" And he held himself up, very proud and straight; But a rude young wind through the forest dashed, In a reckless temper, and quickly smashed The delicate leaves.
With a clashing sound They broke into pieces and fell on the ground, Like a silvery, shimmering shower of hail, And the tree stood naked and bare to the gale.
Then his heart was sad; and he cried, "Alas "For my beautiful leaves of shining glass! "Perhaps I have made another mistake "In choosing a dress so easy to break.
"If the fairies only would hear me again "I'd ask them for something both pretty and plain: "It wouldn't cost much to grant my request,— "In leaves of green lettuce I'd like to be dressed!" By this time the fairies were laughing, I know; But they gave him his wish in a second; and so With leaves of green lettuce, all tender and sweet, The tree was arrayed, from his head to his feet.
"I knew it!" he cried, "I was sure I could find "The sort of a suit that would be to my mind.
"There's none of the trees has a prettier dress, "And none as attractive as I am, I guess.
" But a goat, who was taking an afternoon walk, By chance overheard the fir-tree's talk.
So he came up close for a nearer view;— "My salad!" he bleated, "I think so too! "You're the most attractive kind of a tree, "And I want your leaves for my five-o'clock tea.
" So he ate them all without saying grace, And walked away with a grin on his face; While the little tree stood in the twilight dim, With never a leaf on a single limb.
Then he sighed and groaned; but his voice was weak— He was so ashamed that he could not speak.
He knew at last that he had been a fool, To think of breaking the forest rule, And choosing a dress himself to please, Because he envied the other trees.
But it couldn't be helped, it was now too late, He must make up his mind to a leafless fate! So he let himself sink in a slumber deep, But he moaned and he tossed in his troubled sleep, Till the morning touched him with joyful beam, And he woke to find it was all a dream.
For there in his evergreen dress he stood, A pointed fir in the midst of the wood! His branches were sweet with the balsam smell, His needles were green when the white snow fell.
And always contented and happy was he,— The very best kind of a Christmas tree.


by Henry Van Dyke |

The Proud Lady

 When Stiivoren town was in its prime
And queened the Zuyder Zee,
Its ships went out to every clime
With costly merchantry.
A lady dwelt in that rich town, The fairest in all the land; She walked abroad in a velvet gown, With many rings on her hand.
Her hair was bright as the beaten gold, Her lips as coral red, Her roving eyes were blue and bold, And her heart with pride was fed.
For she was proud of her father's ships, As she watched them gayly pass; And pride looked out of her eyes and lips When she saw herself in the glass.
"Now come," she said to the captains ten, Who were ready to put to sea, "Ye are all my men and my father's men, And what will ye do for me?" "Go north and south, go east and west, And get me gifts," she said.
"And he who bringeth me home the best, With that man will I wed.
" So they all fared forth, and sought with care In many a famous mart, For satins and silks and jewels rare, To win that lady's heart.
She looked at them all with never a thought, And careless put them by; "I am not fain of the things ye brought, Enough of these have I.
" The last that came was the head of the fleet, His name was Jan Borel; He bent his knee at the lady's feet,-- In truth he loved her well.
"I've brought thee home the best i' the world, A shipful of Danzig corn!" She stared at him long; her red lips curled, Her blue eyes filled with scorn.
"Now out on thee, thou feckless kerl, A loon thou art," she said.
"Am I a starving beggar girl? Shall I ever lack for bread?" "Go empty all thy sacks of grain Into the nearest sea, And never show thy face again To make a mock of me.
" Then Jan Borel, he hoisted sail, And out to sea he bore; He passed the Helder in a gale And came again no more.
But the grains of corn went drifting down Like devil-scattered seed, To sow the harbor of the town With a wicked growth of weed.
The roots were thick and the silt and sand Were gathered day by day, Till not a furlong out from land A shoal had barred the way.
Then Stavoren town saw evil years, No ships could out or in, The boats lay rotting at the piers, And the mouldy grain in the bin.
The grass-grown streets were all forlorn, The town in ruin stood, The lady's velvet gown was torn, Her rings were sold for food.
Her father had perished long ago, But the lady held her pride, She walked with a scornful step and slow, Till at last in her rags she died.
Yet still on the crumbling piers of the town, When the midnight moon shines free, woman walks in a velvet gown And scatters corn in the sea.


by Henry Van Dyke |

The Empty Quatrain

 A flawless cup: how delicate and fine
The flowing curve of every jewelled line!
Look, turn it up or down, 't is perfect still,--
But holds no drop of life's heart-warming wine.


by Henry Van Dyke |

The Black Birds

 I 

Once, only once, I saw it clear, --
That Eden every human heart has dreamed
A hundred times, but always far away!
Ah, well do I remember how it seemed,
Through the still atmosphere
Of that enchanted day,
To lie wide open to my weary feet:
A little land of love and joy and rest,
With meadows of soft green,
Rosy with cyclamen, and sweet
With delicate breath of violets unseen, --
And, tranquil 'mid the bloom
As if it waited for a coming guest,
A little house of peace and joy and love
Was nested like a snow-white dove 

From the rough mountain where I stood, 
Homesick for happiness,
Only a narrow valley and a darkling wood 
To cross, and then the long distress
Of solitude would be forever past, --
I should be home at last.
But not too soon! oh, let me linger here And feed my eyes, hungry with sorrow, On all this loveliness, so near, And mine to-morrow! Then, from the wood, across the silvery blue, A dark bird flew, Silent, with sable wings.
Close in his wake another came, -- Fragments of midnight floating through The sunset flame, -- Another and another, weaving rings Of blackness on the primrose sky, -- Another, and another, look, a score, A hundred, yes, a thousand rising heavily From that accursed, dumb, and ancient wood, -- They boiled into the lucid air Like smoke from some deep caldron of despair! And more, and more, and ever more, The numberless, ill-omened brood, Flapping their ragged plumes, Possessed the landscape and the evening light With menaces and glooms.
Oh, dark, dark, dark they hovered o'er the place Where once I saw the little house so white Amid the flowers, covering every trace Of beauty from my troubled sight, -- And suddenly it was night! II At break of day I crossed the wooded vale; And while the morning made A trembling light among the tree-tops pale, I saw the sable birds on every limb, Clinging together closely in the shade, And croaking placidly their surly hymn.
But, oh, the little land of peace and love That those night-loving wings had poised above, -- Where was it gone? Lost, lost forevermore! Only a cottage, dull and gray, In the cold light of dawn, With iron bars across the door: Only a garden where the withering heads Of flowers, presaging decay, Hung over barren beds: Only a desolate field that lay Untilled beneath the desolate day, -- Where Eden seemed to bloom I found but these! So, wondering, I passed along my way, With anger in my heart, too deep for words, Against that grove of evil-sheltering trees, And the black magic of the croaking birds.


by Henry Van Dyke |

The Bells of Malines

 AUGUST 17, 1914 

The gabled roofs of old Malines
Are russet red and gray and green,
And o'er them in the sunset hour
Looms, dark and huge, St.
Rombold's tower.
High in that rugged nest concealed, The sweetest bells that ever pealed, The deepest bells that ever rung, The lightest bells that ever sung, Are waiting for the master's hand To fling their music o'er the land.
And shall they ring to-night, Malines? In nineteen hundred and fourteen, The frightful year, the year of woe, When fire and blood and rapine flow Across the land from lost Liege, Storm-driven by the German rage? The other carillons have ceased: Fallen is Hasselt, fallen Diest, From Ghent and Bruges no voices come, Antwerp is silent, Brussels dumb! But in thy belfry, O Malines, The master of the bells unseen Has climbed to where the keyboard stands,-- To-night his heart is in his hands! Once more, before invasion's hell Breaks round the tower he loves so well, Once more he strikes the well-worn keys, And sends aerial harmonies Far-floating through the twilight dim In patriot song and holy hymn.
O listen, burghers of Malines! Soldier and workman, pale beguine, And mother with a trembling flock Of children clinging to thy frock,-- Look up and listen, listen all! What tunes are these that gently fall Around you like a benison? "The Flemish Lion," "Brabanconne," "O brave Liege," and all the airs That Belgium in her bosom bears.
Ring up, ye silvery octaves high, Whose notes like circling swallows fly; And ring, each old sonorous bell,-- '' Jesu," "Maria," "Michael!" Weave in and out, and high and low, The magic music that you know, And let it float and flutter down To cheer the heart of the troubled town.
Ring out, "Salvator," lord of all,-- "Roland" in Ghent may hear thee call! O brave bell-music of Malines, In this dark hour how much you mean! The dreadful night of blood and tears Sweeps down on Belgium, but she hears Deep in her heart the melody Of songs she learned when she was free.
She will not falter, faint, nor fail, But fight until her rights prevail And all her ancient belfries ring "The Flemish Lion," "God Save the King!"


by Henry Van Dyke |

The Ancestral Dwelling

 Dear to my heart are the ancestral dwellings of America,
Dearer than if they were haunted by ghosts of royal splendour;
These are the homes that were built by the brave beginners of a nation,
They are simple enough to be great, and full of a friendly dignity.
I love the old white farmhouses nestled in New England valleys, Ample and long and low, with elm-trees feathering over them: Borders of box in the yard, and lilacs, and old-fashioned Howers, A fan-light above the door, and little square panes in the windows, The wood-shed piled with maple and birch and hickory ready for winter, The gambrel-roof with its garret crowded with household relics, -- All the tokens of prudent thrift and the spirit of self-reliance.
I love the look of the shingled houses that front the ocean; Their backs are bowed, and their lichened sides are weather-beaten; Soft in their colour as grey pearls, they are full of patience and courage.
They seem to grow out of the rocks, there is something indomitable about them: Facing the briny wind in a lonely land they stand undaunted, While the thin blue line of smoke from the square-built chimney rises, Telling of shelter for man, with room for a hearth and a cradle.
I love the stately southern mansions with their tall white columns, They look through avenues of trees, over fields where the cotton is growing; I can see the flutter of white frocks along their shady porches, Music and laughter float from the windows, the yards are full of hounds and horses.
They have all ridden away, yet the houses have not forgotten, They are proud of their name and place, and their doors are always open, For the thing they remember best is the pride of their ancient hospitality.
In the towns I love the discreet and tranquil Quaker dwellings, With their demure brick faces and immaculate white-stone doorsteps; And the gabled houses of the Dutch, with their high stoops and iron railings, (I can see their little brass knobs shining in the morning sunlight); And the solid houses of the descendants of the Puritans, Fronting the street with their narrow doors and dormer-windows; And the triple-galleried, many-pillared mansions of Charleston, Standing sideways in their gardens full of roses and magnolias.
Yes, they are all dear to my heart, and in my eyes they are beautiful; For under their roofs were nourished the thoughts that have made the nation; The glory and strength of America came from her ancestral dwellings.


by Henry Van Dyke |

The Heavenly Hills of Holland

 The heavenly hills of Holland,--
How wondrously they rise 
Above the smooth green pastures
Into the azure skies!
With blue and purple hollows,
With peaks of dazzling snow, 
Along the far horizon
The clouds are marching slow.
No mortal foot has trodden The summits of that range, Nor walked those mystic valleys Whose colors ever change; Yet we possess their beauty, And visit them in dreams, While the ruddy gold of sunset From cliff and canyon gleams.
In days of cloudless weather They melt into the light; When fog and mist surround us They're hidden from our sight; But when returns a season Clear shining after rain, While the northwest wind is blowing, We see the hills again.
The old Dutch painters loved them, Their pictures show them clear, Old Hobbema and Ruysdael, Van Goyen and Vermeer.
Above the level landscape, Rich polders, long-armed mills, Canals and ancient cities,-- Float Holland's heavenly hills.


by Henry Van Dyke |

War-Music

 Break off! Dance no more!
Danger is at the door.
Music is in arms.
To signal war's alarms.
Hark, a sudden trumpet calling Over the hill! Why are you calling, trumpet, calling? What is your will? Men, men, men ! Men who are ready to fight For their country's life, and the right Of a liberty-loving land to be Free, free, free! Free from a tyrant's chain, Free from dishonor's stain, Free to guard and maintain All that her fathers fought for, All that her sons have wrought for, Resolute, brave, and free! Call again, trumpet, call again, Call up the men! Do you hear the storm of cheers Mingled with the women's tears And the tramp, tramp, tramp of marching feet? Do you hear the throbbing drum As the hosts of battle come Keeping time, time, time to its beat? O Music give a song To make their spirit strong For the fury of the tempest they must meet.
The hoarse roar Of the monster guns; And the sharp bark Of the lesser guns; The whine of the shells, The rifles' clatter Where the bullets patter, The rattle, rattle, rattle Of the mitrailleuse in battle, And the yells Of the men who charge through hells Where the poison gas descends, And the bursting shrapnel rends Limb from limb In the dim Chaos and clamor of the strife Where no man thinks of his life But only of fighting through, Blindly fighting through, through! 'Tis done At last! The victory won, The dissonance of warfare past! O Music mourn the dead Whose loyal blood was shed, And sound the taps for every hero slain; Then lead into the song That made their spirit strong, And tell the world they did not die in vain.
Thank God we can see, in the glory of morn, The invincible flag that our fathers defended; And our hearts can repeat what the heroes have sworn, That war shall not end till the war-lust is ended.
Then the bloodthirsty sword shall no longer be lord Of the nations oppressed by the conqueror's horde, But the banners of freedom shall peacefully wave O'er the world of the free and the lands of the brave.