Set of the Sail: An inspiring poem

'Tis the Set of the Sail -- or  -- One Ship Sails East

Ella Wheeler Wilcox 1916

But to every mind there openeth,
A way, and way, and away,
A high soul climbs the highway,
And the low soul gropes the low,
And in between on the misty flats,
The rest drift to and fro.

But to every man there openeth,
A high way and a low,
And every mind decideth,
The way his soul shall go.

One ship sails East,
And another West,
By the self-same winds that blow,
'Tis the set of the sails
And not the gales,
That tells the way we go.

Like the winds of the sea
Are the waves of time,
As we journey along through life,
'Tis the set of the soul,
That determines the goal,
And not the calm or the strife.
Yesterday's post referenced this poem by Ella Wheeler Wilcox, and quoted a line from it. I wanted to share the entire poem, as it is worth reading in its entirety. 

My dad introduced me to this poem many years ago. His father introduced it to him, by the way, and I'm looking forward to sharing it with my children when they get a little older. I love that it's being passed down through generations. My dad once gave me a framed quote from the poem which I still keep on my dresser to this day.

The message it contains has become one of my Splendid Truths, as Gretchen Rubin might say. 

I hope it resonates with you too.


  1. Do you still have the embroidered version I made for Glenn?

  2. What a great week at Laurel's blog! Thanks for sharing the whole poem, it's one I'll hold onto. Do you think this means we should at least once, try to go for a sail--to set our sail and take a spin?! That WOULD be fun!

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  4. which part of the poem did your father frame? I don't understand what 'tis the set of the sails, and not the gales that tells the way we go' means?

    1. He framed this quote: "'Tis the set of the sails, And not the gales, That tells the way we go." My takeaway was always that I get to decide what to do with the things that happen to me. It's my choices, and my attitude, that ultimately determines my outcomes, not the events that happen to me.

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  6. This poem is very incorrect, and has been rewritten. The word "Sails" in the third stanza should be "Drives", among other little changes someone made.

    1. Well, that wouldn't rhyme the way the author had the other stanzas written.

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  7. I feel it means the choices that we make and how we react to stress, love and our life. I have know 2 people who have committed suicide. One was when I was in college and he was the nicest person and it was a shock to everyone. In class I said this poem which to me means that we do not really know what another person has going on in their life and it is their choice in their life on which way to go. Don't get me wrong I feel so bad when someone does this to themselves and I feel that they are torn on which way to go.

  8. Much of those choices one makes are determined at a very young age while the neural networks are forming in the brain. To say we have total self-determination is to miss this point-- that our adolescence and adulthood is but an extension of our earliest years.

  9. شركة مقاولات بالرياض وهي انها افضل
    اجذب المزيد من الزبائن إلى مطعمك من خلال تصاميمه الفريدة من نوعها. نتميز بكوننا من أفضل شركات التصميم الداخلي في الرياض