The internet research hub for Victor Hugo enthusiasts
I am standing upon that foreshore. A ship at my side spreads her white sails in the morning breeze and starts for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength and I stand and watch her until at length she hangs like a speck of white cloud just where the sea and sky come down to mingle with each other. Then someone at my side says, "There! She's gone!" "Gone where?" "Gone from my sight, that's all." She is just as large in mast and spar and hull as ever she was when she left my side; just as able to bear her load of living freight to the place of her destination. Her diminished size is in me, not in her. And just at that moment when someone at my side says, "There! She's gone!" there are other eyes watching her coming and other voices ready to take up the glad shout, "Here she comes!"
The analogy above, often used at funeral services, is often attributed to Hugo's novel, "Toilers of the Sea." However, this appears to be incorrect. At least, I was unable to find the source upon reading Hugo's novel, and I have never seen a French version of this quote suggesting the original was in English.
There are seven other attributions I have found:
A piece of paper with the poem was found on Col. David "Mickey" Marcus's body after he was shot in 1948. My guess is that friends/relatives incorrectly assumed he wrote it.
This book can be purchased from Amazon. However, this was published in 1983. If the poem was found on Col. Marcus's body in 1948, it had to have been written before then.
Rev. Dr. Harold Blake Walker was Senior Pastor at the First Presbyterian Church in Evanston, IL from 1947-1968. Assuming he read the poem to his congregation, it would seem likely he got it from the same source as Col. Marcus.
Van Dyke appears to be a likely source. Columbia Encyclopedia: 1852-1933, American clergyman, educator, and author...He was pastor of the Brick Presbyterian Church, New York City (1883-99), professor of English literature at Princeton (1899-1923), and U.S. minister to the Netherlands (1913-16). Among his popular inspirational writings is the Christmas story The Other Wise Man (1896). The themes of his sermons are also expressed in his poetry and the essays collected in Little Rivers (1895) and Fisherman's Luck (1899). These collections of his poetry and essays are out of print, however Project Gutenberghas recently added a lot of his writings. This piece doesn't appear to be in the works currently online, though its possible Van Dyke had other collections that haven't been added yet to Project Gutenberg.
Bishop Brent (1862-1929), a contemporary of Henry Van Dyke, is also a possibility. He was Bishop of the Phillipines. Like Henry Van Dyke above, while there are several attributions on the internet, none of them cite a particular collection of essays or poetry where the poem can be found. It does not appear in Things that matter; the best of the writings of Bishop Brent. Edited by Frederick Ward Kates & Henry Knox Sherrill. © 1949.
I have not verified it appears in this book. This is a compilation, and James Dalton Morrison is listed as the editor, but it's the earliest citation that lists a specific book, and provides a possible source for both Col. David Mickey Marcus and Rev. Dr. Harold Blake Walker to have found the piece.
Eureka! An actual appearance in an actual book scanned by Google. This religious journal only credits it to "Selected." However, the 1904 publication date predates everyone above except for Bishop Brent and Henry Van Dyke. Here is the quote as it appears there:
I am standing upon the seashore. A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze and starts for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength, and I stand and watch her until at length she hangs like a speck of white cloud just where the sea and sky come down to meet and mingle with each other. Then some one at my side says, "There! She's gone!" Gone where? Gone from my sight, that is all. She is just as large in the mast and hull and spar as she was when she left my side, and just as able to bear her load of living freight to the place of her destination. Her diminished size is in me, and not in her. And just at that moment, when some one at my side says, "There! she's gone!" there are other eyes that are watching for her coming and other voices ready to take up the glad shout, "There she comes!" And that is—dying.—