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James Whitcomb Riley

(7 October 1849 - 22 July 1916 / Greenfield, Indiana)

The Iron Horse


No song is mine of Arab steed--
My courser is of nobler blood,
And cleaner limb and fleeter speed,
And greater strength and hardihood
Than ever cantered wild and free
Across the plains of Araby.

Go search the level desert land
From Sana on to Samarcand--
Wherever Persian prince has been,
Or Dervish, Sheik, or Bedouin,
And I defy you there to point
Me out a steed the half so fine--
From tip of ear to pastern-joint--
As this old iron horse of mine.

You do not know what beauty is--
You do not know what gentleness
His answer is to my caress!--
Why, look upon this gait of his,--
A touch upon his iron rein--
He moves with such a stately grace
The sunlight on his burnished mane
Is barely shaken in its place;
And at a touch he changes pace,
And, gliding backward, stops again.

And talk of mettle--Ah! my friend,
Such passion smolders in his breast
That when awakened it will send
A thrill of rapture wilder than
E'er palpitated heart of man
When flaming at its mightiest.
And there's a fierceness in his ire--
A maddened majesty that leaps
Along his veins in blood of fire,
Until the path his vision sweeps
Spins out behind him like a thread
Unraveled from the reel of time,
As, wheeling on his course sublime,
The earth revolves beneath his tread.

Then stretch away, my gallant steed!
Thy mission is a noble one:
Thou bear'st the father to the son,
And sweet relief to bitter need;
Thou bear'st the stranger to his friends;
Thou bear'st the pilgrim to the shrine,
And back again the prayer he sends
That God will prosper me and mine,--
The star that on thy forehead gleams
Has blossomed in our brightest dreams.

Then speed thee on thy glorious race!
The mother waits thy ringing pace;
The father leans an anxious ear
The thunder of thy hooves to hear;
The lover listens, far away,
To catch thy keen exultant neigh;
And, where thy breathings roll and rise,
The husband strains his eager eyes,
And laugh of wife and baby-glee
Ring out to greet and welcome thee.
Then stretch away! and when at last
The master's hand shall gently check
Thy mighty speed, and hold thee fast,
The world will pat thee on the neck.

Submitted: Friday, April 09, 2010

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