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Whittier, John Greenleaf. "The Ship-Builders".


The speaker describes an evening of ruddy sky, grey earth, and rising stars. He watches the ship-builders working in the river-mist for us all day until evening. The speaker observes that their toil is noble, but not so noble as "ours", because "We make of Nature's giant powers the slaves of human Art". "We" means apparently poets.

The speaker describes the voyage of the ship of "ours" and the obstacles of the sea (icebergs, rocks, etc.) which the ship must overcome. There is however a "young bride of the sea" who seems to protect ships on the sea. The speaker appeals that the ships should bear exclusively "honest fruits of toiling hands", and no slaves.


The poem praises honest work of free people and refuses forced labour of slaves. Though appreciating manual work, the speaker thinks intellectual work superior. The voyage of the ship of poetry is rendered so as if it were a voyage of a virtual ship on the sea. The young female protector of this ship and hence of poetry might be the poet's muse.


  • Author

    Whittier, John Greenleaf. (1807 - 1892).
  • Full Title

    "The Ship-Builders".
  • First Published

    In: The United States Democratic Review. NY: 1846.
  • Form


Works Cited

Whittier, John Greenleaf. "The Ship-Builders". (1846). In: Masterpieces of American Literature. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1891.


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