Songs of the Rail (1)
Home Up Biographic Sketch Ballads & Sonnets Later Poems Miscellanea Site Search Main Index





A WORKER on the rail, where, day by day,
             The engine storms along,
And sends forth, as he thunders on his way,
             Wild strains of eagle song.

Or toiling on with heavy pant and strain,
             As if within his breast
A god, bound by some splendid doom to pain,
             Lies in his wild unrest;

And struggles like Enceladus, until,
             Through all his shining length,
Each fire-fed sinew answers with a thrill,
             And shakes and gleams with strength.

Then the wild vigour, shooting to its point
             Of madness, fills each limb
That strides with one great sweep from joint to
             Of rails, that under him

Bend, as they feel his sudden certain grasp,
             Or quiver as he reels,
And slips and slides with sullen grind and rasp
             Of sternly-rolling wheels.

Or in the night, when darkness, like a veil,
             Curtains the sleep of earth,
He flares along the pathway of the rail
             Like a Titanic birth

Of some great monster from whose throat, as when
             A new volcano wars,
A million sparks of fire burst up, and then
             Fall down like mimic stars:

As with unwinking eye of glowing white
             He tears the night apart,
And with broad spears of palpitating light
             (The lightnings of his heart),

He shears the midnight with its shadowy shrouds,
             Till every breath and pant
Mirrors and paints itself against the clouds,
             Like northern lights aslant.

And swift as thoughts fling arches over space
             In some worn giant's dream,
He rushes, crown'd with flame, upon his race,
             The god of fire and steam!

Nay, when far out among the hills I lie
             Beside the moorland streams,
Hearing them whisper forth with lulling sigh
             Their little hopes and dreams:

He follows still, and from the distant bound,
             His whistle echoes shrill,
Lapping with an invisible wave of sound
             Each rift and shore of hill;

Or in the city, when I pace the street,
             At one with all my kind,
Dreaming I hear in all the tramp of feet
             The steady march of mind,

Moving to silent battles still unfought,
             And seeing far on high
Standards, which truth with her own hands has
             For men to guard or die.

And hearing the firm tramp of peoples strong
             In the high rights of man,
I move, as if one of the fearless throng,
             A footstep from the van.

Till, worthy climax to my dreams, the black
             Wild monster rushes on,
Along great arches that uprear their back,
             Like Atlases of stone.

And linking surging street to street, he seems
             Aglow with dusky scorn,
The swart apostle preaching wondrous dreams
             Of days and years unborn.

For with him, like a prophecy that raves
             Of some wild fruitful deed,
Go the great energies that kneel like slaves
             Wherever men have need.

What marvel, then, that seeing, day by day,
             The engine rush along,
That I send you, from out the "four-feet way,"
             This book of railway song.





"Let each man honour his workmanship—his Can-do."—CARLYLE.

LET us sing, my toiling Brothers, with our rough, rude voice a song
That shall live behind, nor do us in the after ages wrong,
But forever throb and whisper strength to nerve our fellow kind
As they rise to fill our footsteps and the space we leave behind.
What though hand and form be rugged? better then for Labour's mart—
I have never heard that Nature changed the colour of the heart—
For the God above hath made us one in flesh and blood with kings,
But the lower use is ours, and all the force of rougher things.
Then, my Brothers, sing to Labour, as the sun-brown'd giant stands
Like an Atlas with this planet shaking in his mighty hands.
Brawny arm'd, and broad, and swarthy, keeping in with shout and groan,
In the arch of life the keystone, that the world may thunder on;
Ever toiling, ever sweating, ever knowing that to-day
Is the footstool for the coming years to reach a higher sway.
Up, then, we, his rugged children, as the big hours move and pant,
For that cannot be but noble what he claims and cannot want:
Sing, and let his myriad voices bear the burden far along,
While we hail the mighty engine as the spirit of our song!

Arm to arm, and let the metals into proper range be thrown,
Let us smooth the iron pathway to the monster coming on.
Lo! he dawns adown the distance, and his iron footway rings
As he bounds, a wander'd meteor, muffled up in smoky wings—
Earth beneath his mighty footsteps trembles at the sudden load,
As of old the flood Scamander at the falling of the god.
Give him freedom, strength he needs not, only space and bound to fly,
As at night, in starry silence, glides a planet through the sky—
Thus he comes, the earth-born splendour, and with sudden shriek and gasp
On he flames, the Jove of Commerce, with the lightnings in his grasp.
O, my Brothers, this is something, in the fret and rush of days,
Worthy of our love and wonder, and the throbbing out of praise;
Then another wilder pæan for this march of thought and mind,
Some ecstatic dithyrambus that shall deify our kind.

Arm to arm, and let the metals into proper range be thrown,
Let us shape the iron pathway for the monster coming on;
Make his footing sure and steady, fitting for a thing like him,
Rolling out his seven-leagued paces smoother than a bird can skim ;
Welding city unto city, and as with strong withes of steel
Drawing traffic into method, till his muscles shake and reel;
Stretching out, Briareus-like, a hundred arms of sudden stroke,
Rolling upward to the darken'd heavens Python-coils of smoke;
Touching, like the gods of fable, all things into noble strife,
As before the heated sculptor flash'd the statue into life.
O, what strength shall be his portion in the coming reach of time,
When his sinews swell and ripen into firm and perfect prime,
He shall be the tireless monster that like Gulliver shall lead
Busy peoples to each other only with an iron thread.

Heart! but this grand world rolls onward through the shadows of the years,
Swift as fell the reckless Phæton headlong through the startled spheres;
And along with it we wrestle, shaping bounds we slowly reach,
For this knowledge is a master whose first aim is to unteach.
So, he moves with time and patience, working with a careful heed,
Growing more and more in earnest when he moulds the perfect deed;
Therefore guide him well, and listen to his slightest spoken word,
For a simple note will sometimes lead us to a fuller chord;
And the finish'd triumph with us shall a hundredfold repay
All the toil, and search, and panting for the source of purer day.
"But," says one, who still will murmur in the camp of brotherhood,
" Progress comes with tardy footsteps, and can do the grave no good."
There but spoke the Cynic, Brothers, curbing down with strongest steel
All the width of human purpose, all that brain can do and feel;
Scorning ever outward action, but to wrap himself in toils
Spun to catch the things that wither, spun to catch the dust that soils.
Shame on such! they are not worthy of the common breath they draw,
Since with it they make existence wither to a narrow law.
Wider range and freer action, nobler maxims for my breath;
I would wish my fellows success from the very jaws of death:
Death! a moment's cunning darkness flung across the trembling eyes
As we flash into the spirit cradled in a wild surprise.
Then what motions come upon us, golden laws of sudden calm,
Raining down eternal silence, raining down eternal balm.
Dare I fix my vision further, deeming that we mould this mind,
But to look in steady splendour on the toiling of our kind?
Heart! but this were something nobler than the poet ever felt
When the fought-for happy laurel clasp'd his forehead like a belt;
When the liquid fire of genius, rainbow colour'd, flash'd and glow'd
All its mighty beams above him with the splendour of a god,
Wider in its stretch and grandeur than the brain could ever dream
To look down upon our fellows from some planet's blinding gleam,
Watching with seraphic vision, grasping with delighted soul,
All the goals to which they hurry as the moments shake and roll,
Linking with an unseen quickness vigour to the tasks they do,
Touching each with fresher impulse as a nobler comes in view.
Then when triumph crowns their striving, start to hear the heaven sublime
Fill its azure arch with plaudits echoing from the throat of time,
And to hear the poets singing far above the rush of feet
Epithalamiums of madness when the links of success meet.
This is frenzy, and the overstretching of unhealthy strings,
Let us touch a chord that trembles to the breath of higher things.
Rash in him who sings unworthy, looking not within his heart
For the counsel that should guide him to the honours of his art.
"Sing you thus?" I hear you question, and I answer you again,
I but fit me to that measure chance flings blindly down on men,
Which requires nor heart nor passion, but the will that makes a voice—
Mighty poets sing by impulse, and the lesser but by choice.
"Yet you claim the meed of poet?" and I answer firm and strong,
Count me only as a poet, Brothers, while I sing this song.

Arm to arm, and let the metals into proper range be thrown,
Let us shape the iron pathway for the monster coming on.
What though we be feeble puppets with a little vigour crown'd,
Yet this task is ours, to fence his footsteps into proper bound;
Therefore guide him well, nor tamper with the thread that leads his powers,
Since the splendour of his mission flings a dignity on ours.

As the silent sage at midnight shapes his cunning thoughts to smooth
Pathways through the world's wild jungles for the steady tramp of truth;
As the pioneer that fells the sounding forest tree by tree,
With a mighty thought that trembles to the settlement to be;
As the sentinel who slowly paces as the night hours fly,
With the lives of sleeping thousands hanging on his watchful eye;
As upon the field of Sempach in the bleeding Switzer's breast
Freedom found her purple dwelling, giving to a nation rest;
As the coral insect toiling in the ocean's mighty vast
Rears a giant's labour upward through the swaying surge at last;
So the specks that dot existence, seeming blind and aimless still,
Knit in one, are levers waiting for the touch of thought and will.
Thus are we but toiling units, rough at heart and brown in face,
Noble only being useful, helpful in a humble place;
Filling up the ruts existence furrows with his heavy wain,
That the richer hearts behind may start and sow the fruitful grain;
For we clothe with rougher muscle circles of a mighty whole,
Moving at the touch of fellows with a greater breadth of soul.
But I crave not higher mission than to shape the ends they think,
Deeming I am all but godlike in the holding of a link.
And this link for ever widens, as their restless spirits teach,
Till it forms a chain of union ringing from the heart of each;
Break it and a gap arises never seen until it broke,
As the wires, when cut, are traitors to the sentence-breathing shock;
Heedless of such bond of union grapple we with erring mind,
Feeling not the mighty impulse streaming from our greater kind,
Which, even as the spreading glory waiting on the dying sun,
Shoots along this link that binds us till we feel ourselves as one;
And we grow into their triumph as their works rise up sublime,
Like a book that lies before you glowing with some poet's rhyme;
And the spirit of the minstrel, leaping distance, shoots along,
With a monarch's footsteps marching through the pathways of his song.

Thus the mighty who have labour'd in the ages sunk behind
Knit their spirit to that purpose which they left among their kind;
And forever as the groaning Ages trample under foot
Hydras born of sleeping Wisdom when it pleased her to be mute;
And wherever slow Improvement wanders with a laggard's pace—
Like the Cynic with his lantern roaming in the marketplace
There their power of brain is busy, bringing with its potent rod
Genii from all points of heaven, sets them working with a nod,
In the whirl and sweep of traffic, in the long and restless street,
Multitudinous with its echoes from a thousand feet;
In the clash and clang of hammers, in the anvil's busy sound,
In the belt that like a serpent whirls in hot pursuit around;
In the crash of tooth and pinion slowly forming linkèd rounds;
In the mighty beam that labours, like a Hercules in bounds;
In the slightest puff of steam that specks the ocean far away;
In the sail that dips its shadow far within the lucent bay;
In the furnace darting upward lurid gleams to greet the skies,
Till they start at such a welcome with a flush of red surprise;
In whatever rises up for myriad use with loud acclaim;
In whatever sets for Progress stepping-stones to reach her aim.
But it hath a deeper meaning, and a greater strength and skill,
In the clanking of the rail, and in the engine's thunder still;
For the might of what our fellows can with cunning fingers frame
Moves with him as on he flashes in great bursts of smoke and flame.
Lo, at times as on he strides a quick and glowing frenzy steals
From his sinews swift as light, and from the roar and rush of wheels,
Quick as when the far-off mountains shake themselves from summer mist,
Or the virtue to the woman when she touch'd the hem of Christ—
Filling all the soul within me with a wonder at my kind,
And the nerve and battle onward of this ever-restless mind.
In such fits and heats I wander half a step before the years,
Taking to myself the vision forethought sets apart for seers;
And I see a healthier colour, promise of a Titan's prime,
And a mightier sinew working on the naked arm of Time;
And behind him roars nor cannon, nor the champ of fretting steed,
But the nations leaning forward ready for the swordless deed.
But he waves them back and questions, "Am not I the thought and type
That shall shake the perfect blossom, knowing when the seed is ripe?
Am I not the unseen symbol giving every moment birth,
Breathing with a finger resting on the iron pulse of earth,
Waiting till I feel a calmer action in the glowing vein,
And a wider stretch of bosom ere I stoop to sow the grain?"
This he whispers, and forever as he shakes his restless wings
Silent sands within his hour-glass slip away like earthly things.
But the cycles hid behind him, peering from their shadows still,
Wear upon their brow a purpose which they tremble to fulfil;
Then, for songs to hail their coming, lyrics from some burning heart
Beating with the perfect mission, glowing with the given art.
Higher task is not for poets than to touch with sounding chords
Gleaming Memnons of advance, and shape their whispers into words.
This the task for which the laurel glitters, as upon the thorn
Woven webs of silky slightness swaying in the flush of morn.
Let him take such wreath unblushing, knowing that it is his right,
But his inspiration only as he feels his given might.
Then, when round his brow its coolness circles with inspiring clasp,
Let his thoughts take deeper music, wider range, and higher grasp;
Let him sing the better yearning running through our noble strife,
As from bough to bough the juices creeping start the buds to life;
And the promise growing fuller with the rounding of each year—
O, the future is a giant.   We have but his shadow here!

What though Science fills her nectar lavishly in golden cups,
And the earth like a Bacchante all unwitting reels and sups;
She is yet a village maiden, Nature touching not her life,
Girt in dreams of busy childhood, knowing not the aim of wife;
Wearing simple vesture loose in fold that opens to disclose
Breasts that nurse a wish to blossom like the twin buds of a rose,
Then what wonders will they suckle when the juices in her blood
Slowly swell their balmy outline to the round of womanhood:
Like the gods that from Olympus stole into the arms of earth,
Made their nature as a mortal's, and a monster was the birth;
So the thought and might of doing, slipping into her embrace;
Shall be fruitful; and a wonder help the labour of our race.
But from him of double semblance shall she keep the wish'd-for prize,
Heeding not the shallow purpose peering out from narrow eyes;
Only he who toils and battles with an earnest broad desire
Shall receive her fruitful favours, and our fellows shall be higher—
Higher in the nobler feelings, in the wider aims that come,
Pledging all their good to mankind, ever potent, ever dumb.
They shall ride, like one in armour, through the wastes and fens of life,
Giving fight wherever error rears a lance and shield for strife.
They shall usher in the primal order of a happy earth,
Working with their cunning only that a Good may be the birth.

This shall Science do as earnest of her firm and matron prime,
When her passion fruits are growing strong in limb to wrestle time;
They shall watch her slightest motion as she lifts her magic wand,
Rush like Ariels at her sign, and roll the earth into her hand.
Who are they that curb their vision, lifting up with finger tips
Colour'd glass and watch her, crying, that she reels into eclipse?
Narrow hearts that will not widen, souls that in their shells of clay
Flicker up like feeble tapers, but to pass in smoke away;
Prophets that should walk this earth with all their evil croakings wrung
As the shadows swept by Dante in the hell he made and sung;
Ghostly faces looking backward through the shadows thick and vast,
Like Remorse upon a deathbed writhing round to view the past.
Such should be their doom who torture Wisdom into selfish deeds,
Deeming that the earth should wither to give space to sow their creeds.
This were faith in scope and keeping with the brute's within his den;
Let them give their creeds to idiots, but the world to toiling men:
What is all this flash of triumph, from our very footsteps brought,
But the promise of a brighter lying yet unknown to thought—
Brighter in the strength to usher in the many varied use,
As a single bud foreruns a thousand forming the juice.
Yet we grow apace and prosper: All that bath a strength and nerve
Is, like Samson taken captive, made to bow the knee and serve;
And we peer with deepest cunning into seeming useless things,
Train them to a little method, and a miracle upsprings.
Lo, the motion of a finger trifling with a simple wire
Shakes the nations into whispers ere a moment can expire;
And a slight and simple needle shaking in its paltry case
Turns the boundless stretch of ocean to a fearless dwelling-place.
Thus we overleap those wonders kept by ever niggard Time,
Heirlooms of dead worlds behind him ere a blight fell on their prime;
Ah, if they could look upon us from the gloom and dust of years,
Feel our mighty grasp and purpose as the goal we strive for nears;
See the very germ, yet hidden when they pass'd in death away,
Growing into perfect blossom with their fellows yet in clay—
Think you would they turn in wonder to the calm of their abodes,
Blush at all their strength, and worship those who toil'd below as gods?
This is but a wilder fancy creeping through our rugged song;
Yet a burst of rhythmic madness cannot do our fellows wrong,
For in them is nerve and action, will to do and will to dare,
And the demons of their magic work their wonders everywhere.
Hearken! as the world rolls onward with a slow and toiling sound,
All their voices swell and mingle in triumphal hymns around.
Come they from the dash of paddles urging through the spray and foam,
Freights of earnest bosoms outward, freights of smiling faces home;
From the lunge of pistons working scant of room to breathe and pant,
Yet like slaves do all the feats their ever-cunning masters want ;
From the whirring of the spindle in the hot and dusty room,
From the mazes of the wheel, and from the complicated loom,
From the furnace belching outward molten forms at their desire,
Like Enceladus upspringing through his hill of smoke and fire:
Mighty sounds are these, but mightier rush with everlasting hail
From the thunder of the engine and the clanking of the rail.
Ah! the monster that shall mould and make the coming cycles strong—
Shame on me that could desert the inspiration of my song!
So, another pæan, Brothers, ere the fancy sinks away,
Ere we take the voiceless measure ranging through our toiling day.

Arm to arm, and lay the metals, glowing with but one desire—
To do honour to the mightiest of the worshippers of fire.
All the great in early fable, from the mighty Anakim
To each thew'd and swarthy Cyclops, are as nothing unto him.
Yet he seeks our aid and mutters, shaking in his sudden wrath—
Give me but a hand to guide me, give me but a fitting path:
And he snorts and shrieks in triumph as at every bound and rasp,
Like twin threads laid out in distance, all the iron meets his grasp.
Dare we, then, as unto mortals, whisper fear and death to him,
When such breadth of strength like lightning flashes through his heart and limb;
When, within his throbbing bosom, bound with glowing links of fire,
Lies his wildest being panting with the thoughts that cannot tire;
And they hiss, and leap, and flicker, licking up with fiery breath
Strength to feed his sinews working like the flash of swords beneath?
I rise from out my weakness as he flares along my view,
And I deem that I am mighty in the labour others do;
For the Frankensteins who made him part by part and limb by limb
Had the same soul beating in them as my own at seeing him.

Arm to arm, then, lay the metals, let him roll along the rods,
Like Prometheus through the heavens rushing from the angry gods.
Lo!  I look into the ages that in spirit we may see
When the hand of death hath stripp'd us from this warp of action free,
And I see this monster stretching his untiring sinews still,
Keeping all his strength, but blindly giving unto men his will;
And they—Lilliputs in muscle, he not deeming them as such,—
Urge his ringing footsteps onward with a paltry fingertouch;
And they link him unto wonders, and their triumphs still increase
Till some awe-struck fellow whispers, "It were time for us to cease."
But they turn and shout an answer, high rebuke in all its tone,
"Shame! and have another planet growing mightier than our own!
Out on such a craven's whisper, all unworthy of our powers,
And this monster toiling with us, making all his being ours.
Forward, then, and let us fashion wider space for his career,
Till the old earth reels and staggers as his sounding footsteps near."
Then they turn to all their labour, shaping as their thought will speak
Pathways into which he glides with iron clutch and madden'd shriek;
And forever as their success brings a wilder aim in view,
Flashes out by fits a wonder at the miracles they do.
Said we not the future's shadow only falls upon us here
As a cloud's upon a hill when all the rest is shining clear?
But to them, our larger fellows of the ages yet to be,
He shall rise, as gods are statured, huge of limb, and broad, and free;
And in frenzy they shall hail him, bring their trophies to his feet,
Then rush on in throngs, and strive to make their wondrous gains complete:
While through all their fret and hurry he, the monster of our song,
Like a wild earth-bound Immortal shall in thunder flash along,
Clasping all things in his vigour, as a serpent flings his coil,
Labour's mightiest Epic rolling through the panting heart of Toil.




"BLESS her dear little heart!" said my mate, and he pointed out to me,
    Fifty yards to the right, in the darkness, a light burning steady and clear.
"That's her signal in answer to me, when I whistle, to let me see
    She is at her place by the window the time I am passing here."

I turn'd to look at the light, and I saw the tear on his cheek—
    He was tender of heart, and I knew that his love was lasting and strong—
But he dash'd it off with his hand, and I did not think fit to speak,
    But look'd right ahead through the dark, as we clank'd and thunder'd along.

They had been at the school, the two, and had run, like a single life,
    Through the mazes of childhood up to the sweeter and firmer prime,
And often he told me, smiling, how he promised to make her his wife,
    In the rambles they had for nuts in the woods in the golden autumn time.

"I must make," he would add, "that promise good in the course of a month
            or two;
    And then, when I have her safe and sound in a nook of the busy town,
No use of us whistling then, Joe, lad, as now we incline to do,
    For a wave of her hand, or an answering light, as we thunder up and down."

Well, the marriage was settled at last, and I was to stand by his side,
    Take a part in the happy rite, and pull from his hand the glove;
And still as we joked between ourselves, he would say in his manly pride,
    That the very ring of the engine-wheels had something in them of love.

At length we had just one run to make before the bridal took place,
    And it happen'd to be in the night, yet merry in heart we went on;
But long ere he came to the house, he was turning each moment his face
    To catch the light by the window, placed as a beacon for him alone.

"Now then, Joe," he said, with his hand on my arm, "keep a steady look
            out ahead;
    While I whistle for the last time;" and he whistled sharply and clear;
But no light rose up at the sound; and he look'd with something like dread
    On the white-wash'd walls of the cot, through the gloom looking dull,
            and misty, and drear.

But lo! as he turn'd to whistle again, there rose on the night a scream,
    And I rush'd to the side in time to catch the flutter of something white;
Then a hitch through the engine ran like a thrill, and in haste he shut off
            the steam,
    While, turning, we look'd at each other, our hearts beating wild with affright.

The station was half a mile ahead, but an age seem'd to pass away
    Ere we came to a stand, and my mate, as a drunken man will reel,
Rush'd on to the front with his lamp, but to bend and come back and say,
    In a whisper faint with its terror—"Joe, come and look at this blood on the wheel."

Great heaven! a thought went through my heart like the sudden stab of a knife,
    While the same dread thought seem'd to settle on him and palsy his heart
            and mind,
For he went up the line with the haste of one who is rushing to save a life,
    And with the dread shadow of what was to be I follow'd closely behind.

What came next is indistinct, like the mist on the mountain side—
    Gleam of lights and awe-struck faces, but one thing can never grow dim:
My mate, kneeling down in his grief like a child by the side of his mangled
    Kill'd, with the letter still in her hand she had wish'd to send to him.

Some little token was in it, perhaps to tell of her love and her truth,
    Some little love-errand to do ere the happy bridal drew nigh;
So in haste she had taken the line, but to find, in the flush of her fair sweet youth,
    The terrible death that could only be seen with a horror in heart and eye.

Speak not of human sorrow—it cannot be spoken in words;
    Let us veil it as God veil'd His at the sight of His Son on the cross.
For who can reach to the height or the depth of those infinite yearning chords
    Whose tones reach the very centre of heaven when swept by the fingers of loss?

She sleeps by the little ivied church in which she had bow'd to pray—
    Another grave close by the side of hers, for he died of a broken heart,
Wither'd and shrunk from that awful night like the autumn leaves in decay,
    And the two were together that death at first had shaken so roughly apart.

But still, when I drive through the dark, and that night comes back to my mind,
    I can hear the shriek take the air, and beneath me fancy I feel
The engine shake and hitch on the rail, while a hollow voice from behind
    Cries out, till I leap on the footplate, "Joe, come and look at this blood on
            the wheel!"




"Ambos oder Hammer sein. "—GOETHE.

My brothers, in this great world of ours
    Our hearts have need to be strong,
And have in them, like shady nooks in a wood,
    A shelter for stirring song.
So this snatch of wisdom from Goethe in mine
    Is for ever speaking to me,
In the battle of life, from birth unto death
    "Thou must hammer or anvil be."

Hammer or anvil, so runs the rhyme,
    To beat or be beaten upon—
Whether you stand in the first of the ranks,
    Or be left in the rear alone.
But shame on that coward who, faint in his heart,
    Would wish to slink from the fray,
Or could bend himself to each turn of the fight,
    As a potter might fashion his clay.

Other way must this daily battle be fought,
    With no craven heart in the breast,
But keeping keen eye on the colours ahead,
    And shoulder and pace with the rest.
The bravest of all the fighters is he
    Who, whatever chance may betide,
Can turn and fashion some battle-word
    For his fellows on either side.

Then, brothers, let us rise up from our fears,
    No anvils are we, but men
Who can wield the sledge-hammer, like mystic
    For the daily battle again.
Let us strike, with an arm to the shoulder bare,
    That the sinews may play in their might:
Let us strike for the manhood we feel within
    And then we strike for the right.

What truth in the fable we have from the Greek
    (A fable is truth at white heat)
Of Hercules smiting the heads off the beast,
    Till the monster lay dead at his feet.
It is still in this planet, wherever he tread,
    God's own given mission to man,
That he watch for error uprearing her head
    And strike wherever he can.

Then seize the sledge-hammer of mighty life,
    Let the clanging blows resound;
He strikes the swiftest and surest of all
    Who stands on no vantage-ground.
Let this earth of ours, then, from end to end,
    Be the anvil steady and strong
Whereon we beat, in the sight of the gods,
    The hundred heads of wrong.

What though others around thee turn from the
    And chatter, a six-feet ape,
Heed them not, for they, too, stand on God's own
    But keep true to thyself and thy shape.
Life is earnest only to earnest men,
    Sings the high pure Schiller, and so
Let them fashion the blocks of their own rough
    To the models they worship below.

But he who can feel lying warm at his heart
    The higher nature of man,
And can widen the link between us and the brute,
    Let him boldly step to the van.
We will follow him on like a leader of old,
    And echo his battle cry;
Make way for men that will work like men,
    Or, failing, man-like will die.

Yes—the fight will be long, and the heart will droop,
    For the ill will seem to win;
But look through the smoke to the goal ahead,
    And fall back on the strength within.
Each point that you gain is a step in your life
    To lift you nearer the throng
Who have fought and conquer'd, or hero-like died,
    With their hands at the throat of some wrong.

Then, brothers, bring into this world's wide field
    Firm heart and sure foot for the strife:
No anvils are we for each fool to beat out
    His ape-like system of life.
We strive for a higher standard than his,
    As we echo our battle cry
Here are men who will work at the tasks of men
    Or, failing, man-like will die!"




"On fire-horses and wind-horses we career."—CARLYLE.

HURRAH! for the mighty engine,
    As he bounds along his track:
Hurrah, for the life that is in him,
    And his breath so thick and black.
And hurrah for our fellows, who in their need
    Could fashion a thing like him—
With a heart of fire, and a soul of steel,
    And a Samson in every limb.

Ho! stand from that narrow path of his,
    Lest his gleaming muscles smite,
Like the flaming sword the archangel drew
    When Eden lay wrapp'd in night;
For he cares, not he, for a paltry life
    As he rushes along to the goal,
It but costs him a shake of his iron limb,
    And a shriek from his mighty soul.

Yet I glory to think that I help to keep
    His footsteps a little in place,
And he thunders his thanks as he rushes on
    In the lightning speed of his race;
And I think that he knows when he looks at me,
    That, though made of clay as I stand,
I could make him as weak as a three hours' child
    With a paltry twitch of my hand.

But I trust in his strength, and he trusts in me,
    Though made but of brittle clay,
While he is bound up in the toughest of steel,
    That tires not night or day;
But for ever flashes, and stretches, and strives,
    While he shrieks in his smoky glee—
Hurrah for the puppets that, lost in their thoughts,
    Could rub the lamp for me!

O that some Roman—when Rome was great—
    Some quick, light Greek or two—
Could come from their graves for one half-hour
    To see what my fellows can do;
I would take them with me on this world's wild steed,
    And give him a little rein;
Then rush with his clanking hoofs through space,
    With a wreath of smoke for his mane.

I would say to them as they shook in their fear,
    "Now what is your paltry book,
Or the Phidian touch of the chisel's point,
    That can make the marble look,
To this monster of ours, that for ages lay
    In the depths of the dreaming earth,
Till we brought him out with a cheer and a shout,
    And hammer'd him into birth?"

Clank, clank went the hammer in dusty shops,
    The forge-flare went to the sky,
While still, like the monster of Frankenstein's,
    This great wild being was nigh;
Till at length he rose up in his sinew and strength,
    And our fellows could see with pride
Their grimy brows and their bare, slight arms,
    In the depths of his glancing side.

Then there rose to their lips a dread question of fear
    "Who has in him the nerve to start
In this mass a soul that will shake and roll
    A river of life to his heart?"
Then a pigmy by jerks went up his side,
    Flung a globe of fire in his breast,
And cities leapt nearer by hundreds of miles
    At the first wild snort from his chest.

Then away he rush'd to his mission of toil,
    Wherever lay guiding rods,
And the work he could do at each throb of his pulse
    Flung a blush on the face of the gods.
And Atlas himself, when he felt his weight,
    Bent lower his quaking limb.
Then shook himself free from this earth, and left
    The grand old planet to him.

But well can he bear it, this Titan of toil,
    When his pathway yields to his tread;
And the vigour within him flares up to its height,
    Till the smoke of his breath grows red;
Then he shrieks in delight, as an athlete might,
    When he reaches his wild desire,
And from head to heel, through each muscle of steel,
    Runs the cunning and clasp of the fire.

Or, see how he tosses aside the night,
    And roars in his thirsty wrath,
While his one great eye gleams white with rage
    At the darkness that muffles his path;
And lo! as the pent-up flame of his heart
    Flashes out from behind its bars,
It gleams like a bolt flung from heaven, and rears
    A ladder of light to the stars.

Talk of the sea flung back in its wrath
    By a line of unyielding stone,
Or the slender clutch of a thread-like bridge,
    That knits two valleys in one!
Talk of your miracle-working wires,
    And their world-embracing force,
But himmel! give me the bits of steel
    In the mouth of the thunder-horse!

Ay, give me the beat of his fire-fed breast,
    And the shake of his giant frame,
And the sinews that work like the shoulders of Jove
    When he launches a bolt of flame;
And give me that Lilliput rider of his,
    Stout and wiry and grim,
Who can vault on his back as he puffs his pipe,
    And whisk the breath from him.

Then hurrah for our mighty engine, boys;
    He may roar and fume along
For a hundred years ere a poet arise
    To shrine him in worthy song;
Yet if one with the touch of the gods on his lips,
    And his heart beating wildly and quick,
Should rush into song at this demon of ours,
    Let him sing, too, the shovel and pick.

ED.—readers who found this poems attractive might also wish to read Ferguson's
         "Forging of the Anchor," which too sings of man's engineering triumph.




ONCE again within the city, 'mid its multitudinous din,
    Stand I, while, as sinks a leaf when left by the uncertain wind,
So the daily village quiet, and the calm I had within,
    Shrinks before the magic contact of the ever-shaping mind.

In the village life is sluggish, waking up but for a space,
    As the engines shriek and whistle down by hill and wooded glen;
But here a mightier striving stamps itself upon my race—
    Here are all the active ages, and the tramp of busy men.

Then away with daily labour, thoughts of books or weary rhyme,
    Let me plunge into this whirlpool rolling on in mad unrest—
Let me, Faust-like, have the weal of men in all the coming time,
    That its triumph may strike vigour through the soul within my breast.

Hush! we spoke not of the sorrow that upon their joys will peer,
    As the huge unshapen monster glared in on pale Frankenstein,
Edging life's uncertain smile with all the drapery of a tear,
    And placing in the cup the drop that dulls and drugs the wine.

But heed not this, and think that, in the rolling on of years,
    The slow whirlpool of sure change will lift this life still higher up,
Till it leave behind its apehood, and its daily load of fears,
    And drink existence gladly as if angels held the cup.

Far apocalyptic touches that unveil the years to be,
    Show this in ecstatic glimpses, as when mists upon a hill
Lift their trailing arms of whiteness, till, as in a dream, we see
    A summer gush of glory lying hid behind them still.

Is the pencil of broad Hogarth still to keep its biting truth,
    And for ever flash its satire on the world's sweat-blinded sight?
Are we still to stumble onward on a pathway all unsmooth,
    Like a Cyclops in his cavern smitten with the loss of light?

Ay, the time will come, my brothers, though it lies behind far hope,
    Yet faint flashes rise up from it, like the northern lights we see;
Then, while all the ages come to widen out the mighty scope,
    Let us lap ourselves in dreams of what our fellow-men will be.

Look not back with idle murmur lying fretting on thy lips,
    That which lies behind is but the crude world's shadow in dull light;
Look thou forward where the sunshine from a kindlier heaven slips,
    Cheering on thy kind to wider vantage-grounds for truth and right.

The far ages bristling upward, waiting for their unborn men,
    Have in them the golden blossom of the seed we sow in fear;
Wider growths of thought and ripeness, nobler tasks for brain and pen,
    Fuller brotherhood in all that perfects us to manhood here.

Heart! to see our future fellows standing on our present gain,
    Which we wrench'd from the stern centuries, and Samson-like made
Shaping, with a larger forethought and a finer grasp of brain,
    Pathways to the purer use of life and all our human powers.

Theirs shall be our slow improvement rising up to perfect bloom,
    Through the centuries niggard of it, like the aloe with its bud;
It shall bring new modes of thinking that shall all the old entomb,
    Building up a higher channel for the rushing on of good.

For our fellows striving onward, though they wear the stain of toil,
    Ever yearn to shape out goals to which their better natures tend;
And their good within shoots upward, like a plant within the soil,
    To the higher, grander freedom, to the nobler godlike end.

Then let change come striking outward, with soft touch or sudden shock,
    Let the years glide by, if we can feel that in the lapse of time,
As a leaping mountain torrent through decades can smooth the rock,
    We are growing better, wiser, surer of the foot to climb.

For the struggle in the climbing will be hard and ill to bear;
    Each one, like the souls in Dante, wearing cloaks and hoods of lead;
But for ever as we struggle, with half breath to breathe a prayer,
    From above we hear the echo of another brother's tread.

For the selfless souls amongst us, hearted with the heart of Christ,
    Ever turn and beckon onward that their strength may be our own;
And we hear their potent watchwords, which, if we could still resist,
    It were shame upon our foreheads burning to the very bone.

All their lives and thoughts are with us, and the strong world's future weal
    Will be shaped by what they fought for, though it may be ere it form
(For it will not take their semblance as soft wax takes on the seal),
    Cycles may rise up, and set in cloudless calm or sudden storm.

But it will be: higher comfort as we labour scarce can be;
    Mists may rise and wrap it from us, but the mighty darting sun
Will strike heat throughout the shadows till like phantom shapes they flee,
    Leaving all the good we strove for, and the better laurels won.

Thanks, then, toiling, restless city, that my heart should leap and fill
    With such thoughts to help me onward in my own rough life and toil,
That I see through all this hurry one ennobling purpose still;
    Dim as yet, but growing brighter, like the mists that leave the soil.

And that purpose still turns brighter at the touch on either hand
    Of my fellow-kind who, with me, hold the same high hope of this,
Each one sets it to that music reaching him where he may stand;
    But it still keeps ring and measure to the far-off coming bliss.

Teach, then, poet, prophet, priest, with hands stretch'd out to that desire;
    Ring it forth to toiling men, and waft it over land and sea,
As the rugged Hebrew prophet, while his eyeballs swam in fire,
    Sent down through his vatic brotherhood the Christ that was to be.

Far behind me lies the city, with its ebb and flow of men,
    But the thoughts that came within it are for ever in my breast;
And they leap up as the engines thunder down by hill and glen,
    Or in my walks at night-time when the village is at rest.

[Next Page]


Home | Up | Biographic Sketch | Ballads & Sonnets | Later Poems | Miscellanea | Site Search | Main Index