George MacDonald

(10 December 1824 – 18 September 1905 / Huntly, Aberdeenshire, Scotland)

Lines To A Steamboat

Poem by George MacDonald

Dark stranger on the teeming map of fate
Fabric, that seem’st a thing alike apart
From aught that nature or that art create;
To me a mystery thou ever art;
And awe and wonder stir me when thy frame
I view, strange birth of water and of flame.

How can’st thou here? A scarce distinguished speck
I saw thee on the distant wave, but now—
And yet no busy crew upon thy deck
Nor bellying sail, nor labouring oar hast thou—
What power propels thee? beats what viewless heart
Within thy tall planks, marvel as thou art?

Nor wind or tide thy onward path perplex,
Blow east, blow west, it seems alike to thee,
While meaner barks each varying breeze can vex
Hurl from their course, or on the slumbering sea
Chain motionless—thou glidst stately on,
Unchecked, unchanged—majestic and alone.

I gaze perchance around me—thou art there;
I gaze again, and thou art there no more,
Though fix’d there still thy lingering mates appear—
Where art thou fled? to what far wave or shore
Hast vanish’d dream like bark, if bark thou be,
And not some basking monster of the sea!

I love thee not, strange fabric, love who may
There’s something vague and phantom-like about thee
I dare not trust to—and methinks that they
Who most admire, e’en in admiring doubt thee;
Proudly thou showest now—yet who can tell
One horrid moment shall not break the spell!

And hurl thee, gilded sides and painted wheels,
In shiver’d atoms upwards to the sky—
Dearer to me the tough old gallant keels
Their snow white sails, and masts as forest high,
Time honour’d bulwarks on whose wood wall dread,
A Duncan conquer’d and a Nelson bled.

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Poem Submitted: Friday, April 9, 2010