Treasure Island

Alexander Anderson

(1845-1909 / Scotland)

Song Of The Engine


In the shake and rush of the engine,
In the full, deep breath of his chest,
In the swift, clear clank of the gleaming crank,
In his soul that is never at rest;
In the spring and ring of the bending rail,
As he thunders and hurtles along,
A strong world's melody fashions itself,
And this smoke-demon calls it his song.

'Hurrah! for my path I devour in my wrath,
As I rush to the cities of men
With a load I lay down like a slave at their feet,
Then turn and come backward again.
Hurrah! for the rush of the yielding air
That gives way to my wild, fierce springs
As I keep to the rail, while my heart seems to burst
In a wild, mad craving for wings.

'I rush by hills where the shepherds are seen
Like a speck as they walk on their side;
I roar through glens and by rocks that shake
As I quicken the speed of my stride.
I glide by woods and by rockbound streams
That hurry and race in their glee,
But swift as they run, with their face to the sun,
They can never keep pace with me.

'I tear through caverns of sudden dark,
Like that in which first I lay,
Ere the cunning of man had alit on a plan
To drag me up to the day.
I rush with a shriek, which is all I can speak,
A wild protest against fear;
But I come to the light with a snort of delight,
And my black breath far in the rear.

'I crash along bridges that span the hills,
And catch at a glimpse below
The roof-thatch'd cot and the low white wall
Lying white in the sun's last glow.
Or it may be the gleam of some dull, broad stream
Creeping slowly onward beneath,
While within its breast for a moment I catch
The shadow and film of my breath.

'I rush over roofs in my madness of flight,
But not like the demon of old;
I leave them unturn'd, for the arches in air
Bear me up, and my feet keep their hold.
At times, too, I catch, when I check my speed,
The long, wide lane of the street,
And hear, 'twixt the snorts of my own fierce breath,
The clamour and hurry of feet.

'Then I snatch a look at the puppets beneath,
But to snort and rush onward again,
With a fear at my heart almost quenching its heat,
For, heavens ! these must be men—
Ay, men, I could bend like the willow, but who,
With a thought that from nothing will shrink,
Have hurl'd me down with their hands on my throat,
And bound me in rivet and link.

'I rush by village, and cottage, and farm;
I thunder sudden and quick
Upon handfuls of men who leap out of my way,
And lean on their shovel or pick.
There is one brown fellow among them who sings
The terrible sweep of my limb;
The fool! dare he mimic this music of mine,
And such pitiful music in him?

'I flare through the night when the stars are bright,
With the lights of the city for mark:
With bound upon bound I shake the ground,
As I feel for the rail in the dark.
And I know that the stars whisper each to each,
As downward they flicker and peer,
'What is this that these fellows have hit on below,
That seems like a meteor from here?'

'For my great eye glistens and gleams in the front,
As if to give light to my tread,
While behind, like the fires of a Vulcan flung out,
Three others glare thirsty and red.
And the flame licking round the fierce life in my heart,
Let loose for a moment, upsprings,
And darts through the whirls of my breath overhead,
Till it makes me a demon with wings.

'I send through the city's wild heart shocks of life,
But to feel them come back like a wave;
I loom broad and swart in wild traffic's rough mart,
I kneel to men like a slave.
I gather from all the four ends of the earth,
What profit and use there may be—
Did the Greek ever dream, in his talk with the gods,
Of a wild beast of burden like me?

'But often my own wild thoughts leap far ahead,
And I question myself with a moan—
'Will I ripen and grow into sinew and limb
With the higher race that comes on?
Or shall I grow white with the hoar of the years
That, falling, cankers and wears—
Turning feeble of limb with the things that benumb,
And steal the vigour from theirs?

''Were this worthy end for a being like mine,
Begot in the frenzy of thought,
And sent as the type of the soul of this age,
Setting time and distance at nought?
No, death may leap back, like men from my track,
For my iron-girt bosom will beat,
Till the judgment-bolts flung from the right hand of
God
Smite the pathway from under my feet.''

Thus he snorts and sings as he thunders by me,
This wild smoke-demon of ours,
While from end to end the rail quivers and bends
To his thousand Hercules' powers.
And his great breath mixes and whirls with the clouds,
While he whoops as if mad with glee
'Did the Greek ever dream, in his talk with the gods,
Of a black beast of burden like me?'

Submitted: Thursday, March 11, 2010

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