Address To A Steam-Vessel Poem by Joanna Baillie

Address To A Steam-Vessel



FREIGHTED with passengers of every sort,
A motley throng, thou leav'st the busy port.
Thy long and ample deck, where scatter'd lie,
Baskets, and cloaks, and shawls of scarlet dye;
Where dogs and children through the crowd are straying,
And, on his bench apart, the fiddler playing,
While matron dames to tressel'd seats repair,--
Seems, on the gleamy waves, a floating fair.
Its dark form on the sky's pale azure cast,
Towers from this clust'ring group thy pillar'd mast.
The dense smoke issuing from its narrow vent
Is to the air in curly volumes sent,
Which, coiling and uncoiling on the wind,
Trails like a writhing serpent far behind.
Beneath, as each merg'd wheel its motion plies,
On either side the white-churn'd waters rise,
And, newly parted from the noisy fray,
Track with light ridgy foam thy recent way,
Then far diverged, in many a welted line
Of lustre, on the distant surface shine.

Thou hold'st thy course in independent pride;
No leave ask'st thou of either wind or tide.
To whate'er point the breeze, inconstant, veer,
Still doth thy careless helmsman onward steer;
As if the stroke of some magician's wand
Had lent thee power the ocean to command.
What is this power which thus within thee lurks,
And, all unseen, like a mask'd giant works?
Ev'n that which gentle drones, at morning's tea,
From silver urn, ascending, daily see
With tressy wreathings playing in the air,
Like the loos'd ringlets of a lady's hair;
Or rising from the enamell'd cup beneath,
With the soft fragrance of an infant's breath:
That which within the peasant's humble cot
Comes from th' uncover'd mouth of sav'ry pot,
As his kind mate prepares his noonday fare,
Which cur, and cat, and rosy urchins share:
That which, all silver'd with the moon's pale beam,
Precedes the mighty Geyser's up-cast stream,
What time, with bellowing din exploded forth,
It decks the midnight of the frozen north,
Whilst travellers from their skin-spread couches rise
To gaze upon the sight with wond'ring eyes.
Thou hast to those 'in populous city pent'
Glimpses of wild and beauteous nature lent;

A bright remembrance ne'er to be destroyed,
Which proves to them a treasure, long enjoyed,
And for this scope to beings erst confin'd,
I fain would hail thee with a grateful mind.
They who had nought of verdant freshness seen
But suburb orchards choked with colworts green,
Now, seated at their ease may glide along,
Lochlomond's fair and fairy isles among;
Where bushy promontories fondly peep,
At their own beauty in the nether deep,
O'er drooping birch and berried row'n that lave
Their vagrant branches in the glassy wave:
They, who on higher objects scarce have counted
Than church's spire with gilded vane surmounted,
May view, within their near, distinctive ken,
The rocky summits of the lofty Ben;
Or see his purpled shoulders darkly lower
Through the dim drapery of a summer shower.
Where, spread in broad and fair expanse, the Clyde
Mingles his waters with the briny tide,
Along the lesser Cumra's rocky shore,
With moss and crusted lichens flecker'd o'er,
Ev'n he, who hath but warr'd with thieving cat,
Or from his cupboard chaced a hungry rat,
The city cobbler,--scares the wild sea-mew
In its mid-flight with loud and shrill halloo;

Or valiantly with fearful threat'ning shakes
His lank and greasy head at Kittywakes.
The eyes that have no fairer outline seen
Than chimney'd walls with dated roofs between,
Which hard and harshly edge the smokey sky,
May Aron's softly-vision'd peaks descry,
Coping with graceful state her steepy sides,
O'er which the cloud's broad shadow swiftly glides,
And interlacing slopes that gently merge
Into the pearly mist of ocean's verge.
Eyes which admir'd that work of sordid skill,
The storied structure of a cotton-mill,
May, wond'ring, now behold the unnumber'd host
Of marshall'd pillars on fair Ireland's coast,
Phalanx on phalanx rang'd with sidelong bend,
Or broken ranks that to the main descend,
Like Pharaoh's army, on the Red-sea shore,
Which deep and deeper went to rise no more.
Yet, ne'ertheless, whate'er we owe to thee,
Rover at will on river, lake, and sea,
As profit's bait or pleasure's lure engage,
Thou offspring of that philosophic sage,

Watt, who in heraldry of science ranks
With those to whom men owe high meed of thanks,
And shall not be forgotten, ev'n when Fame
Graves on her annals Davy's splendid name!--
Dearer to fancy, to the eye more fair
Are the light skiffs, that to the breezy air,
Unfurl their swelling sails of snowy hue
Upon the moving lap of ocean blue:
As the proud swan on summer lake displays,
With plumage bright'ning in the morning rays,
Her fair pavilion of erected wings,--
They change, and veer, and turn like living things.
So fairly rigg'd, with shrouding, sails and mast,
To brave with manly skill the winter blast
Of every clime,--in vessels rigg'd like these
Did great Columbus cross the western seas,
And to the stinted thoughts of man reveal'd
What yet the course of ages had conceal'd.
In such as these, on high adventure bent,
Round the vast world Magellan's comrades went.
To such as these are hardy seamen found
As with the ties of kindred feeling bound,
Boasting, as cans of cheering grog they sip,
The varied fortunes of 'our gallant ship.'

The offspring these of bold sagacious man
Ere yet the reign of letter'd lore began.
In very truth, compar'd to these thou art
A daily lab'rer, a mechanic swart,
In working weeds array'd of homely grey,
Opposed to gentle nymph or lady gay,
To whose free robes the graceful right is given
To play and dally with the winds of heaven.
Beholding thee, the great of other days
And modern men with all their alter'd ways,
Across my mind with hasty transit gleam,
Like fleeting shadows of a fev'rish dream:
Fitful I gaze with adverse humours teased,
Half sad, half proud, half angry, and half pleased.

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