Wednesday, May 09, 2012

A Heart of Fire and a Soul of Steel

From "The Engine"
by Alexander Anderson

"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 wrapped 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....

You can read the rest of it here. Anderson, who became known as the Poet of the Iron Horse, worked in a quarry and was mostly self-taught. His most famous poem is probably Cuddle Doon, a very gentle poem about putting the children to bed; but for the most part he lauds the steam engine, the railways, and the working man.

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