Familiar as the motto of Spain, it refers to an even more ancient warning inscribed, according to legend, upon the Pillars of Hercules (the modern day Straits of Gibraltar). The said inscription, “Nemo plus ultra,” warned the mariner that there was nothing further beyond the Pillars and that he ought to return. The motto, which dares the mariner to ignore the warning and see what is beyond the limits of understanding, is quite appropriate for this poem, celebrating celestial navigation. Dedicated to Kapitan Rick.
Pour forth a ray of Your brightness, Lord, into
our vigilant eyes and keen souls! Speak, o stars,
for now we listen with patient hearts and knowledge
well regulated to the very second. Such discipline
do you demand, jewels of the spheres, to guide us
upon the world’s wide expanse, round the pillar
of unearthly light you let land in antipode of Earth.
But to those who persevere then coax from this
celestial clue circle to round encircle planet and
find us sailing at its tangent.
O art of angels! For what
other can command such power leased from Urania
for token of rigor and labor as to pause the sun itself
in endless track, hang the stars and suspend wheel of
heaven in space, while patience is repaid time over
to place us upon the globe? What other art doth let
fly so high and long the arrow-point of sight so as to
touch and ask the ancient orbs the way back home?
The star frenzy gleans in mathematic cipher the flight
of Helios and Diana on zenith-line and divine loxodrome,
that combined gains admission onto cosmic curve
and heaven’s highway with freeze of tiny watch.
Thus the zodiac procession halted, our ship seems
to glide onto sea-path with breathless stir, and disturb
but specks of stars in diamond wake. Whole host
of heaven greets us with joyful twinkle and the vessel
seems be made of sterling gold, blessed with the
Master’s grace. This patch of ocean is not reached
by wit and luck alone, but by teaching and obedience
that rises as sweet smell and well pleases our God.
Seeing willing hearts and firm foundation, even upon
the waters the Lord let’s heaven’s glow reveal His City
upon rushing, rising floor of plankton, beneath universal
dome, and bring the Seamans closer to Purgatory’s shore.
For here is true learning and firmest education, that
does not shine behind haze of theory, but guides men
unscathed upon the earth, and lifts them to heaven’s vault,
showing from fraction height of saints lands and worlds
further, beyond the horizon and safe waterbreak of harbor.