The Shipwright

By Melvin B. Tolson 1898–1966

    Down in the shipyard, day and night,
            The Galahads of the dock,
    Hard as the sinews of basin rock,
            Build an ocean cosmopolite.
    The rivets stab and the hammers bite
    Into the beams and plates of steel
    Of the Diesel heart and the belly keel.
The workers of the world strike catholic notes
On woods and irons, wring from brassy throats
                         Epics of industry.
                             Day and night
                        The diapason puts
              The bent-winged gulls to flight
  And shakes the harbor and quakes the ground
  And leaps at the suns like Prometheus bound.
  Our matrix shapes our citizen of the world
  To cross the churning mountains of the sea,
       Nor fashions a canoe to sail a lake
                        In cool felicity.

Melvin Tolson, "The Shipwright" from Harlem Gallery and Other Poems of Melvin B. Tolson (Charlottesville: The University Press of Virginia, 1999)

Source: "Harlem Gallery" and other Poems of Melvin B. Tolson (University Press of Virginia, 1999)

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet Melvin B. Tolson 1898–1966

SCHOOL / PERIOD Harlem Renaissance

Subjects Activities, Jobs & Working, Social Commentaries, Class, History & Politics

Poetic Terms Metaphor

 Melvin B. Tolson


Known for his complex, challenging poetry, Melvin B. Tolson earned little critical attention throughout most of his life, but he eventually won a place among America's leading black poets. He was, in the opinion of Allen Tate, author of the preface to Tolson's Libretto for the Republic of Liberia, the first black poet to assimilate "completely the full poetic language of his time and, by implication, the language of the . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Activities, Jobs & Working, Social Commentaries, Class, History & Politics

SCHOOL / PERIOD Harlem Renaissance

Poetic Terms Metaphor

Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.