Gone From my Sight by Henry Van Dyke

“Gone From My Sight” by Henry Van Dyke – A Detailed Analysis

Every now and then, you come across one of those poems. These are the poems with disputed authorship. Gone From My Sight by Henry Van Dyke has come to be seen as the common way in which many mentioned this poem, but he likely never wrote it. If you want to know a bit more about it, the only thing for you to do is keep reading and see what else there is to be said about this poem!



Gone From My Sight by Henry Van Dyke Analysis

Date Published20th century
Type of PoemProse poem
Rhyme SchemeNone

The poem that has often come to be seen as Gone From My Sight by Henry Van Dyke is also sometimes known as “Parable of Immortality” and also “What is Dying”, and so there is a lot of confusion about a lot of the aspects of this poem. One of the most important concerns is authorship, but I’ll get to that in time. First, let’s look at something a bit shorter.

Explore Gone From my Sight by Henry Van Dyke Henry Van Dyke and Family (1903); Curtis Publishing Company, photographer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons



Gone From My Sight by Henry Van Dyke Summary Points

The poem that has come to be known as Gone From My Sight by Henry Van Dyke is one that is definitely worth a longer examination. However, a quick summary never hurt anyone! So, let’s do that before we get into a deeper examination of this poem.

  • Gone From My Sight by Henry Van Dyke is about death. This text has come to be seen as an important work that is often read aloud at funerals. It explores death and an understanding of the afterlife.
  • Gone From My Sight by Henry Van Dyke may have been written by Luther F. Beecher. We do not necessarily know the authorship for this text for certain. However, we have come to believe that Henry Van Dyke definitely did not write it.
  • Gone From My Sight by Henry Van Dyke is a prose poem. This means that the poem does not entirely conform to the norms of poetry at all, and instead makes use of many prose features, like one might find in a short story.

This overview of what is to come should be useful to those who need something along these lines. However, there is still much that we can do when it comes to actually analyzing and understanding this poem.

So, if you would like that, get on over to the very next section!



The Author of the Poem: Henry Van Dyke or Rev. Luther F. Beecher

While we often refer to this poem as having been written by Henry Van Dyke, that was likely simply because his name was shown far more prominently on a booklet that featured the poem. So, people naturally started to assume that he was the writer of this poem. However, there are other printings of this poem that list Rev. Luther F. Beecher as the author behind it, and so he has become more commonly acknowledged as the more likely author of the poem in question.

Famous Gone From my Sight by Henry Van Dyke Henry van Dyke (1899) by Rockwood; Rockwood, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons



An In-Depth Gone From My Sight by Henry Van Dyke Analysis

This particular poem needs to be understood within a specific and often quite hazy genre, and that is prose poetry. It does not read like a lot of standard poems, and the lines can often run on as if they were lines in a piece of prose. This also means that the meter is highly variable and there is no real rhyme scheme at play here. It can almost be seen like a work of free verse poetry, but it is not. Instead, it is very much laid out as if it could be read like prose. However, you will only really see this for yourself once we get into the nitty-gritty of the analysis itself. So, that is what we should get into. Just keep in mind that this particular poem is also a popular poem about death, and so it will share several things in common with other elegies that you might find in the world.

Furthermore, expect some strange things when it comes to how the stanzas have been arranged.


Stanza One

I am standing upon the seashore. A ship, at my side,

spreads her white sails to the moving breeze and starts

for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength.

I stand and watch her until, at length, she hangs like a speck

of white cloud just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other.

The first part of the very first line gives us a setting. We are at the seashore with this speaker. They are gazing out at it, and the ocean has long been seen as a natural force of supreme power as well as being associated with various spiritual aspects. As we know this poem is related to death, we may even start to see this ocean as something that comes to be representative of death itself.

The first line continues, and connects to the second line, by mentioning a ship that the speaker sees. This ship has large white sails and it is gently moving along the breeze. We are also told, in the first few words of the third line, that this ship is within this ocean. The water is described as blue, and this is the most natural color that we come to associate with the ocean. Ships have also often been associated with death, and we can see the imagery of ships and boats in places like ancient Greek mythology too, where Charon takes the souls of the dead to Hades.

Discussing Gone From my Sight by Henry Van Dyke Fishing Boats on the Beach at Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer (1888) by Vincent van Gogh; Vincent van Gogh, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The second half of the third line describes the boat, and it is described as a beautiful and powerful thing. The ship is also described using the feminine pronoun “she”, but this is a common way in which ships are described. We can already tell that this ship will be a central focus in this poem as it has departed from the shore which can be seen as the land of the living while the endless ocean becomes death.

The last two lines of this stanza tell us of the ship’s journey from the perspective of the speaker as he stands at the shore. He only watches it go until it is completely gone from his line of sight. It is easy to see how this can be seen as related to death because we can see death coming much of the time, but then it has come, and those who have died will be gone from the world forever.

The journey of the ship into the distance is also described as merging with the ocean and the sky, and the association between the sky and death is one that practically everyone understands. The sky is where heaven can be found in more spiritual beliefs. The ship is now gone.


Stanza Two

Then, someone at my side says, “There, she is gone”

This stanza, as well as the next, are each made up of only a single line. In this case, the line is presented as someone approaching the speaker and talking to them. This person only tells them that the ship is gone. It has vanished off into the distance and it will never return to these shores again.

Gone From my Sight by Henry Van Dyke Analysis Estuary At Dawn (c. 1640-1645) by Simon de Vlieger; Simon de Vlieger, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


Stanza Three

Gone where?

This second very short stanza is simply a question from the speaker about where this ship has gone. He does not know where the ship has actually gone and, if we do take the ship as a metaphor for death, we can see the place it has gone as the afterlife. And even if we have faith in some specific ideology, we cannot know for certain what happens after we have died. So, the speaker is right to ponder this question.

Where indeed has this ship gone?


Stanza Four

Gone from my sight. That is all. She is just as large in mast,

hull and spar as she was when she left my side.

And, she is just as able to bear her load of living freight to her destined port.

The first line of the fourth stanza tells us that, from the perspective of the speaker, the ship has simply left his line of sight. Death has come and those who have died have moved on to whatever is next. We cannot know what is next. We can only know that those who have died are no longer here and with us. However, the remainder of this line as well as the entirety of the next, states that the ship is still somewhere, but not where it can be perceived by the speaker.

Gone From my Sight by Henry Van Dyke Meaning Snow Storm: Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth (c. 1842) by J. M. W. Turner; J. M. W. Turner, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The next line, which is also the last in this stanza, tells us that the ship will continue to move beyond our sight until it reaches the place where it will finally reach. This has an immediate spiritual understanding to it as a more atheistic understanding would likely see there as being no place for the ship to go at all.


Stanza Five

Her diminished size is in me — not in her.

And, just at the moment when someone says, “There, she is gone,”

there are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices

ready to take up the glad shout, “Here she comes!”

The second to last stanza, which is also the last of the stanzas that maintains something resembling a standard length, takes the ship into the mind of the speaker. To the ship, the size of said ship has always remained the same. They do not even notice, just as we do not often notice when we have died, but the speaker has noticed. The way in which the ship decreases in size is only from the perspective of those on the shore. The next few lines bring up that statement from the person beside the speaker. The idea that the ship is “gone” is only something that can be seen from our point of view. And the poem turns it around to show that wherever that ship is going, when it arrives there, those who meet that ship will not be saying that the ship is gone but rather that it has arrived.

The difference in perspective means everything.


Stanza Six

And that is dying…

The very last line of this poem, which stands on its own and is not part of any of the other stanzas, is the thing that finally tells us, for certain, that this has all been a metaphor for dying. We are told point blank that this is what the poem is about so that there can be no confusion as to what the text is trying to say.

Gone From my Sight by Henry Van Dyke Themes The Entombment of Atala (1808) by Anne-Louis Girodet de Roussy-Trioson;  Anne-Louis Girodet de Roussy-Trioson, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons



The Themes of Gone From My Sight by Henry Van Dyke

The poem known as Gone From My Sight by Henry Van Dyke is one that predominantly focuses on death. This is why it has become a poem often recited at funerary services. However, the way in which it examines death is by focusing on a more positive understanding of it. The poem wants us to accept that death will come for us as it is something natural. There is a sense of peace to the whole affair and the poem, as it was likely written by a reverend, has strong spiritual overtones. These themes have led to the poem being seen as a phenomenal examination of death from a more positive perspective.

Gone From my Sight by Henry Van Dyke Poem Henry Van Dyke (c. 1905-1945) by Harris & Ewing; Harris & Ewing, photographer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


It is unfortunate when the name of someone who was never the author of a text comes to be associated with that text. While it has often been seen as a poem by Henry Van Dyke, the more likely alternative is that Gone From My Sight was written by Rev. Luther F. Beecher, and he deserves the acclaim for what this poem explores. However, there are not really other texts written by him out in the world, but at least this one is around for us to enjoy.




Frequently Asked Questions


What Is Gone From My Sight by Henry Van Dyke?

This is a poem that was likely not written by Henry Van Dyke at all but has come to be associated with him. The poem also has other names, such as the Parable of Immortality. The poem is an exploration of death and is commonly read at funerals.


Who Was Henry Van Dyke?

Henry Van Dyke was a writer, clergyman, and diplomat who worked at Princeton as an English professor for many years. However, while he did influence many students, he has often come to be associated with the poem known as Gone From My Sight because of a misunderstanding based on the name of a widely distributed book that included the poem. This poem was most probably written by Rev. Luther F. Beecher instead.


What Are the Themes of Gone From My Sight by Henry Van Dyke?

The primary themes that are explored in this poem have to do with the acceptance of death. The poem posits that death is a natural force and one that should be encountered in more peaceful terms. This has led the poem to become a popular one because of its more positive perspective on death.


Cite this Article

Justin, van Huyssteen, ““Gone From My Sight” by Henry Van Dyke – A Detailed Analysis.” Art in Context. March 18, 2024. URL: https://artincontext.org/gone-from-my-sight-by-henry-van-dyke/

van Huyssteen, J. (2024, 18 March). “Gone From My Sight” by Henry Van Dyke – A Detailed Analysis. Art in Context. https://artincontext.org/gone-from-my-sight-by-henry-van-dyke/

van Huyssteen, Justin. ““Gone From My Sight” by Henry Van Dyke – A Detailed Analysis.” Art in Context, March 18, 2024. https://artincontext.org/gone-from-my-sight-by-henry-van-dyke/.

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