Here, we have gathered some of the greatest poems written about the allure of travel, and the wonders that can be discovered when we venture beyond our own doorsteps.
From The Silverado Squatters
There are no foreign lands. It is the traveller only who is foreign.
Robert Louis Stevenson (1850–1894)
A Prayer for Travellers
May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
The rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.
On the World
The world’s an inn; and I her guest.
I eat; I drink; I take my rest.
My hostess, nature, does deny me
Nothing, wherewith she can supply me;
Where, having stayed a while, I pay
Her lavish bills, and go my way.
Francis Quarles (1592–1644)
If Once You Have Slept on an Island
If once you have slept on an island
You’ll never be quite the same;
You may look as you looked the day before
And go by the same old name,
You may bustle about in street and shop;
You may sit at home and sew,
But you’ll see blue water and wheeling gulls
Wherever your feet may go.
You may chat with the neighbors of this and that
And close to your fire keep,
But you’ll hear ship whistle and lighthouse bell
And tides beat through your sleep.
Oh, you won’t know why, and you can’t say how
Such change upon you came,
But – once you have slept on an island
You’ll never be quite the same!
Rachel Field (1894–1942)
A gallant knight,
In sunshine and in shadow,
Had journeyed long,
Singing a song,
In search of Eldorado.
But he grew old –
This knight so bold –
And o’er his heart a shadow
Fell, as he found
No spot of ground
That looked like Eldorado.
And, as his strength
Failed him at length,
He met a pilgrim shadow –
‘Shadow,’ said he,
‘Where can it be –
This land of Eldorado?’
‘Over the Mountains
Of the Moon,
Down the Valley of the Shadow,
Ride, boldly ride,’
The shade replied,
‘If you seek for Eldorado!’
Edgar Allan Poe (1809–1849)
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive (stamped on these lifeless things)
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822)
A Strip of Blue
I do not own an inch of land,
But all I see is mine, –
The orchard and the mowing fields,
The lawns and gardens fine.
The winds my tax-collectors are,
They bring me tithes divine, –
Wild scents and subtle essences,
A tribute rare and free;
And, more magnificent than all,
My window keeps for me
A glimpse of blue immensity, –
A little strip of sea.
Richer am I than he who owns
Great fleets and argosies;
I have a share in every ship
Won by the inland breeze,
To loiter on yon airy road
Above the apple-trees,
I freight them with my untold dreams;
Each bears my own picked crew;
And nobler cargoes wait for them
Than ever India knew, –
My ships that sail into the East
Across that outlet blue.
Sometimes they seem like living shapes, –
The people of the sky, –
Guests in white raiment coming down
From heaven, which is close by;
I call them by familiar names,
As one by one draws nigh,
So white, so light, so spirit-like,
From violet mists they bloom!
The aching wastes of the unknown
Are half reclaimed from gloom,
Since on life’s hospitable sea
All souls find sailing-room.
The ocean grows a weariness
With nothing else in sight;
Its east and west, its north and south,
Spread out from morn till night;
We miss the warm, caressing shore,
Its brooding shade and light.
Lucy Larcom (1824–1893)
O to sail
O to sail in a ship,
To leave this steady unendurable land,
To leave the tiresome sameness of the streets,
the sidewalks and the houses,
To leave you, O you solid motionless land, and
entering a ship,
To sail and sail and sail!
Walt Whitman (1819–1892)
Midnight on the Great Western
In the third-class sat the journeying boy,
And the roof-lamp’s oily flame
Played down on his listless form and face,
Bewrapt past knowing to what he was going,
Or whence he came.
In the band of his hat the journeying boy
Had a ticket stuck; and a string
Around his neck bore the key of his box,
That twinkled gleams of the lamp’s sad beams
Like a living thing.
What past can be yours, O journeying boy,
Towards a world unknown,
Who calmly, as if incurious quite
On all at stake, can undertake
This plunge alone?
Knows your soul a sphere, O journeying boy,
Our rude realms far above,
Whence with spacious vision you mark and mete
This region of sin that you find you in
But are not of?
Thomas Hardy (1840–1928)
Give me the long, straight road before me,
A clear, cold day with a nipping air,
Tall, bare trees to run on beside me,
A heart that is light and free from care.
Then let me go! – I care not whither
My feet may lead, for my spirit shall be
Free as the brook that flows to the river,
Free as the river that flows to the sea.
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