|From the Imagination to the Paper. The passage is a difficult one; the sea, perilous. At first sight, the distance appears small; and yet, how long the voyage is withal, and how hazardous at times for the ships that undertake it.
The first loss comes from the exceedingly fragile nature of the merchandise carried by the ships. In the markets of the Imagination, the greatest number of things, and the best, are fashioned out of thin glass and translucent porcelain, and with all the care in the world many break during the journey and many others as they are unloaded in port. All this loss is irreparable, for there is no question of the ship’s going back and taking on similar items. There is little possibility it will find the same shop which sold them initially. For the markets of Fantasy have large, sumptuous shops, but they do not last long. Their trade is short-lived: they sell their goods quickly and liquidate at once. It is very rare for a returning ship to find the same exporters with the same articles.
Another loss results from the ships’ capacity. They set forth from the ports of prosperous continents heavy-laden, and then, when they come out into the open sea, they are obliged to jettison part of their cargo in order to save the rest. Thus it results that virtually no ship manages to bring to port intact the treasure it took on. What is thrown overboard is, to be sure, the least valuable merchandise; yet sometimes, in their great haste, the sailors make mistakes and cast priceless objects into the sea.
And then, as soon as the ship comes into the gleaming, paper-white port, new sacrifices are demanded of it once more. Customs officers arrive, examine one item, and debate whether they should allow it to be unloaded; they refuse to let another item be taken off the ship; and they admit only a small portion of certain merchandise. The country has its laws. Not all merchandise has free entry, and smuggling is strictly forbidden. The importation of wines is denied, for those continents whence the ships come produce wine and spirits from the grapes they cultivate and ripen in their more generous climate. The customs officers don’t want any such beverages whatsoever. They are too intoxicating. They are not suitable for all heads. Moreover, there is a firm in that country which has a monopoly on wines. It produces a liquid which has the color of wine and the taste of water; you can drink it all day without getting the least tipsy. It is a venerable firm. It enjoys a great reputation, and its stock is always over-priced.
On the other hand, we should be content whenever a ship pulls into port, even at the cost of all these sacrifices. Because, in the end, through vigilance and constant care, the number of articles broken or jettisoned during the length of the voyage is limited. Moreover, the laws of the country and the customs regulations, though in many respects tyrannical, are not wholly prohibitive, and the greater part of the cargo does get unloaded. The customs officers are not infallible, and some of the forbidden items pass through in falsely labeled crates which say one thing but contain another. And a few fine wines are allowed in for select banquets.
But what is terribly, terribly sad is when certain great ships with coral ornaments and masts of ebony, their large white and red banners unfurled in the breeze, replete with treasures, sail past and do not enter the harbor, whether because everything in their cargo is prohibited or because the harbor is not deep enough to receive them. And so, they pass on by. Favoring winds swell their silken sails, the sun polishes the splendor of their golden prows, and they sail calmly, majestically away ― away from us and our narrow, constraining harbor forever.
Fortunately, such vessels are few and far between. We see maybe two or three in our entire lifetime. We quickly forget them. The more radiant the vision of them is, the faster we forget. And after years have gone by, if by chance one day ― while we are sitting quietly, beholding the light or listening to the silence ― some rousing stanzas return to our mind’s ear, we find we can’t recognize them at first and, racking our memory, endeavor to recall where we first heard them. After considerable effort, the remembrance of old is finally awakened within us, and we recall that those stanzas are from some song sung by the sailors, handsome as heroes out of the Iliad, when those great, sublime ships sailed past and continued on their voyage to ... who knows where?