Songs of the Rail (2)
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BEHIND TIME.


"MORE coal, Bill," he said, and he held his watch to the light of the glowing fire;
    "We are now an hour and a half behind time, and I know that my four months' wife
Will be waiting for me at the doorway just now, with never a wish to tire;
    But she soon will get used to this sort of thing in an engine-driver's life."

He open'd the furnace door as he spoke, while I, turning with shovel in hand,
    Knock'd the fuel into the greedy flame, that was tossing and writhing about,
Leaping up from its prison, as if in a wrath it had not the power to command,
    Shooting narrow pathways of sudden light through the inky darkness without.

Then I turn'd to my place, and as onward we clank'd I sang to myself a snatch
    Of a song, to keep time to the grinding wheel (my voice was as rough as its own);
While Harry cried over, from time to time, as he stole a look at his watch,
    "Making up for our little delays now, Bill, we shall soon catch the lights of the town:'

A steady fellow was Harry, my mate, with a temper like that of a child;
    Loved by all on the line.— "Keeps time like Harry," the guards used to say.
What a marriage was that of his when it came, and how we stokers went wild
    To deck our engines with ivy and flowers in honour of such a day.

A nice happy maiden he got for a wife, but a little timid, poor thing—
    Never could rest when her husband was late, our "pitchins" were getting so rife;
And this would make Harry cry over to me, as we thunder'd with rush and swing,
    "Always like to run sharp to time for the sake of my little wife."

We were now dashing on at a headlong speed, like the sweep of a winter wind,
    When a head-light in front made me step to his side and cry, with my mouth to his ear—
"Joe Smith coming on with the midnight goods—he, too, is an hour behind;
    He should have been safe through Hinchley cutting, instead of passing us here."

On came the train; but ere we had reach'd in passing the middle part,
    A heavy beam in one of the trucks, that had jolted loose from its place,
Crash'd through the storm-board, swift as a bolt, striking Harry full in the heart,
    And sent him into the tender with death lying white on his manly face.

With a cry of horror I knelt by his side, and, lifting a little his head,
    I saw his lips move as if wishing to speak, but the words were lost in a moan.
"Harry!"   He open'd his eyes for a moment, then lifting his finger, said
    "O Bill, my wife—behind time;" and I was left on the engine alone.

My God! what a journey was that through the night, with the pall-like darkness before,
    And behind the dead form of my mate muffled up, looking ghastly, rigid, and dumb;
And ever on either side as I turn'd, a face at a half-shut door
    Peering into the street, to listen the sound of footsteps that never would come.

How that frail slight wife bore the terrible death of the one she had loved so well
    I know not; the horror of that one night with the dead was enough to bear;
And the guardsmen who bore their sad burden home, had not language left them to tell
    Of the awful depths to which sorrow will reach when led by a woman's despair.

Ah! years have gone by since then, but still when I hear the guards say, "Behind time,"
    Like a flash I go back to that hour in the night, mark'd red in my life's return sheet,
And again in my terror I kneel by Harry, struck down in his manly prime,
    While his four months' wife stood waiting to hear the wish'd-for sound of his feet.

 


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THE FIRST-FOOT.


BRIGHT the firelight touch'd his portrait hanging on our humble wall,
    But a sweeter light was in us, with a deeper, purer glow—
He was coming home, our darling—fair and frank, and broad and tall
    First-foot on our simple threshold, cover'd with the New Year's snow.

"Twelve o'clock will strike, dear wife, before the train comes in to-night,"
    Said my husband at the doorway, he, too, glad at heart and gay;
And he turn'd a step to meet me as I whisper'd, soft and light,
    "Let him enter first," and, smiling at my words, he went away.

Then I turn'd, my own heart bursting at the joy about to come,
    Drew the chair a little nearer to the glowing evening fire;
Heard in freaks of my own fancy all the laughter and the hum
    Of a well-known voice that whisper'd ever at my least desire.

Fondly to myself I pictured all his much-prized honours won,
    Earnest of the future harvests that the years would open up;
Caught a hundred whispers rising with this burden still, "our son;"
    O! a mother's joy has not one drop of gall within the cup.

Then I went, and by the window watch'd with eager gazing eye
    All the distant railway lights that slowly came in sight to me;
Question'd to myself, "Now, which of these far lights is bringing nigh
    Our first-foot for the New Year that in one little hour will be?"

But a deep chill, like a viper's touch, crept through me as I stood,
    Bringing hand-in-hand a terror, as behind the farthest light
Rose another in the darkness, that like one great splash of blood,
    Gleam'd like a murder seen of God within the folds of night.

Rooted to the place I stood, and watch'd its steady, fiery gleam,
    All the pulses in my being beating as in act to fail;
And my heart sank down within me, like a stone flung in the stream,
    As behind it rose an engine's whistle with a ghostly wail.

For at that drear whistle all the years broke from their rusty bands,
    Each one teeming with its fatal slip that happen'd in a breath—
How a traitor wheel, or pointsman's hasty clutch of faithless hands,
    Scatter'd broadcast human lives to grace the silent feast of death.

Ah! what battles hope had all that weary hour with countless fears;
    What deep, silent prayers rose upward that the lips still fail'd to speak;
What deep pain within the bosom, with its load of unwept tears,
    That would not give one kindly drop to soften brow or cheek.

Came the hour at last, and striking, each stroke sounded like a knell,
    Bodeful of some fate—but, hark! a sound of footsteps at the gate,
And my tears burst from their prison, and rose upward like a well,
    At the coming joy about to crown my long and weary wait.

Then I heard the sound of whispers faint, as if in awe suppress'd,
    And with all my wild, deep dread within, I open'd up the door—
Saw a burden in strange arms, and in their silence found the rest
    O my God! first-foot in heaven! and for days I knew no more.

Slowly dawn'd the truth upon me, as my life came back again—
    How a signal, clear a moment to the engine-driver's eye,
Brought him on with ringing rush and crash against and through the train!
    And my life's one hope lay mangled in that sudden shock and cry!

Years have pass'd, but still that time brings round the great red light to me;
    With it come the solemn footsteps, and the whispers hush'd and low;
And again the door is open'd, while like one struck dumb I see
    My darling's blood with that round light upon the ghastly snow.

 


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RID OF HIS ENGINE.


THE way that it came about was this—
    I was stoker for over two years to Bill,
But do as we might something went amiss
    With that creaking confounded engine still.

We never ran time, and were always late;
    Now a throttle valve would get choked and stop,
Then an axle grow hot as a coal in the grate,
    Next a tube would burst, and—into the shop.

How Bill did swear when delays took place;
    He would chew till his lips were almost black,
Then say, with an oath, looking into my face—
    "I wish I was rid of this engine, Jack."

But she stuck to us still, like one of the Fates,
    Snorting and creaking on, until
A sort of proverb grew up with our mates,
    "Six hours behind time, like Jack and Bill."

Well, one night on our way through Deepside Moss—
    It was then our turn out with the midnight goods—
Bill had sworn at the engine till he was cross,
    And was now into one of his quieter moods.

When, just as I lifted up my head
    From the furnace-door, there right in front
(I had miss'd the signal standing red),
    Was a mineral train that had stopp'd to shunt.

I shut off the steam, and I shook up Bill
    "For God's sake look out"—when with one wild roar,
And a crash that is making my ears ring still,
    We pitch'd into the train, and I knew no more.

When I came to myself I was down the bank,
    Half-a-yard from my head lay a waggon wheel,
With its axle twisted and bent like a crank,
    But no hurt was upon me that I could feel.

Then I heard coming downward the sound of speech,
    And struggling up to the top, I found
That engine and tender lay piled upon each,
    With a fencework of waggons and vans around.

"What a smash!" said the guard, and I ask'd
            "Where's Bill?"
    He turn'd, and the light of his lamp was cast
On a form at my feet, lying stiff and still:
    Bill had got rid of his engine at last.

 


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JIM'S WHISTLE.


No, the railway wasn't a fitting place
For a man like him, at least one in his case;
But though deaf and dumb, he was quick of the
            eye,
And was first to warn when a train came nigh.
Why, instead of keeping our eye on Jim,
We came in our turn to be watch'd by him.

Whether it was express going past,
Special, mineral, goods, slow or fast,
It was all the same.   Jim could always catch
Up and down line, as if set to watch.
When we heard his cry, short, sharp, and clear,
"Jim's Whistle," we said, and at once stood clear.

Clever workman he was, and handy, too;
Knew at a glance what he had to do;
He was my mate, and 'twas something to see
The finger talk between him and me,
And to hear him laugh to the rest of our mates
When he tried to tickle me over the plates.

At our dinner hour, when we sat at the side
Of the cutting, Jim took a sort of pride
In sitting near me, while his fingers said
All the quaint, strange thoughts that came into his
            head;
While at each he would laugh, till the rest would
            say,
"Jim's in one of his talking moods to-day."

But I lost him at last: though my mate for years,
And quick of the eye; I had still my fears,
That Jim would get caught in spite of our pains,
By engine and tender or passing trains.
And it came at last so sudden and quick,
We left in the four-feet shovel and pick.

'Twas in Dixon's cut.   Jim had been that day
Full of finger talk in his own swift way,
When, just as we clear'd the down line for a train
That was coming onward with jolt and strain,
Round the curve of the up line, swift as the wind,
Came a passenger train, half-an-hour behind.

A cry from us all and a leap to the side
As the train tore on with its terrible stride;
But where was Jim?   We had miss'd his cry—
The whistle that warn'd when a train was nigh.
Alas! in the six-feet, stiff of limb,
With the blood on his face and lips lay—Jim.

I ran to his side and lifted his head,
One look was enough—my mate was dead;
I laid him down in the self-same place,
Then turn'd away with the tears on my face.
"Jim's Whistle," said one, that was all our speech,
As we stood in our grief looking each at each.

And now at my daily work, other mate
Than Jim on the other side of the plate,
I sometimes start with the wish to cry,
"Jim's Whistle, lads, let the train go by."
And often my fingers go up, as if Jim
Were with me, and I were talking to him.

 


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MOVE UPWARD.
 

"Move upward, working out the brute,
 And let the ape and tiger die."—T
ENNYSON.


AY, in heaven's name, let us move upward still
    In this time-changing planet of ours,
And bring to the task what the gods still ask—
    The best of our years and our powers.
Let us make this great century, whirling around,
    A footstool to lift up the foot,
Whereon we may cry, looking upward to God—
    "We are all this way from the brute."

Is the dream of the poet forever to be
    Like the myth of the Greek, or at least
The skeleton dress'd up in costliest gold,
    And set in the midst of the feast?
Is the double meaning forever to wind
    Like the coil of the snake round our speech?
And the Dead Sea fable still utter its truth
    As we mimic and chatter to each?

But questions are weapons an infant can lift,
    Let us marry the fruitfuller act,
And widen our being to let in the light,
    And the strength of the deed-giving fact.
Is it not enough we have come from God?
    But since time took his birthright in years,
We have bred with the brute, and our offspring has been
    The sucklings of bloodshed and tears.

It were time, then, to burst from the links we have forged
    To fetter the soul in the breast,
Though the wrench should bring with it the best of our
            blood,
    And we faint as a pilgrim for rest.
Heart! but each has some task he must close with his life
    When he slips from this world's wide plan,
And the highest a man can shape out for himself
    Is to move himself upward to man.

Ay, move himself up to that nature of his
    Which, though trampled and trod in the dust,
Still shows, as a jewel may gleam through the sand,
    The finger of God through its crust.
Let him, then, so alive with miraculous breath,
    Make the best of his energies join,
Till he lift himself up in the light of the Christ
    To the clear, true ring of the coin.

There be some who squat down by the world's rough path,
    As if life were a burden to shirk,
Heeding not the great watchword it thunders to all—
    "Up, shoulder to shoulder, and work!"
But sit in their darkness to wince at the truth,
    As an owl at the light sits and blinks,
And for ever propound each his question to solve,
    Like a nineteenth-century Sphinx.

"Move upward from what?" they demand, with a croak,
    And I break in at once and reply
"From the sham that has flung our soul under its heel,
    And the words that but wrap up a lie—
From the thought that still grovels and hides in the dust,
    As a viper may do, until blind
It springs up to find venom to add to its own,
    In the plague-spots seen in our kind."

Ay, battle with this as a fighter strikes out,
    When he stands with his back to the wall,
With no help but the strength that is in his right arm,
    And the eye that has glances for all.
Shame on us, then, who stand with our face to the front,
    And modell'd in God's mighty shape,
If we roughen our soul with the dust of the earth,
    To give better foothold for the ape.

God! to look on this manifold, wonderful earth,
    As Novalis look'd on men,
And feel the old rev'rence grow upward within
    To the pitch of the Hebrews again—
To have the rapt soul and the calm, deep eye
    That can look upon all without fear,
And the firm, steady beat of the heart that can feel
    When the footsteps of God are anear.

It may be that we may, fighting upward to this,
    Grow footsore and faint in the heat,
But the moving oneself up to heights in this life
    Spreads no carpeted way for the feet.
Let us think of those grand, true souls who have left
    Guiding-posts on each side of the way,
And press ever on with our eyes to the light
    They have left as a part of their day.

Ay, in Heaven's name, let us move upward, then,
    To the grand, true ring of the man,
Giving to this one task all the best of our years,
    And the strength to reach up to the plan.
Let the "Ernst ist das Leben " of Schiller speak on,
    Till we seize and place under our foot
The head of the ape, crying upward to God,
    "Lo! at last we are free from the brute!"

 


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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?"

 


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ON THE ENGINE BY NIGHT.


ON the engine in the night-time, with the darkness all around,
And below the iron pulses beating on with mighty sound.
And I stand as one in wonder, till within a flush of pride
Leaps and kindles, and my soul is in the mighty monster's stride.
Then I hear amid the clanking and the tumult of the steel,
Something like a song spring upward from the grinding of the wheel,
Low at first but high and higher, till, as day is wide and free,
Comes the song, and this mad lyric sings the monster unto
            me:—
"In the glowing of my bosom, in the roar and rush of fire,
Is the strength that makes the distance shrivel in to my desire,
And I roll along in thunder swift as is the lightning fleet—
Let the Frankensteins who made me keep the guiding of my feet,
For I work with them and labour, bearing in my smoky mirth
All the strain and rush of traffic, as an Atlas bears the earth;
Striving with them till my sinews, bending to their mighty load,
Shake and glisten like the muscles on the shoulder of a god.
Shame that I should let such puppets move me at their slightest will—
I, the Cyclops of this darkness, with a forehead flaming still—
I who have within a vigour equal to all fabled power,
And the soul of mad Prometheus, with his cunning for a dower!
But they draw me onward, placing slips of rail beneath my tread,
While my fiery strength within me to a thousand tasks is wed,
So that all my panting being, marvelling at such display,
Questions, as I foam and thunder, 'Who is greater? I or they?'
This I heed not, for their purpose mixing ever with my own,
Keeps the iron will within me pulsing to a proper tone.
Therefore let my mission widen till my shriek of triumph rings,
Ever from the front of progress leading onward human things.
Lo! the ages yet that slumber in the mighty womb of Time,
At their birth shall gather round me, for my strength shall touch its prime.
They shall hail me as their king, and bring round my giant life
All this mad and restless planet, with its myriad forms of strife.
Then a deeper thirst shall stir me, and a wilder vigour cling
To my never-tiring sinews, as my iron footsteps ring.
Puppets of a restless frenzy, they shall work me till the earth
Bears upon her farthest bosom fiery tokens of my birth.
But I make myself a prophet, yet these miracles shall be,
And be sung in lyrics worthy of this iron heart in me.
Therefore thou who standest wondering while I toil and shriek along,
See that all my world-wide mission touch thee into proper song.
Sing the nerve and toil within me, and the vast desires that fret
Till before them all their purpose and their mighty goals are set;
Sing them unto men in music, rough as is my tortured shriek,
When my strength flares up within me, and my mighty soul must speak,
So that I may hear their pæans as I flash and thunder on,
The rough Hercules of Labour, ever potent and alone."

Thus the monster sang, and ever as he sped with flash and glare
All his fiery thoughts went upward, like red stars into the air,
And each throb that shook his being found a ready voice in mine,
Crying—All the soul within him is but as a part of thine;
Then a deeper pride grew in me, and my heart beat higher still,
For I felt myself a part of all his iron strength and will—
Mine the endless grasp of sinew, mine the miracle of mind,
Mine the glory and the triumph of my toiling fellow-kind.
Thus I thought; and through the night time, as the monster clank'd along,
I grew prouder of my labour and my little gift of song.

 


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A SONG OF PROGRESS.


COME away from pick and shovel for another day again,
    Glide along the veins of iron leading to the city's heart,
Walk its streets and rub a shoulder with my wondrous fellow-men,
    Then come back and stand with firmer foot in labour's toiling mart.

Thus I thought as ever onward, through the golden summer day,
    Went the engine, all his pathway ringing answers to his tread,
Heard him shriek at every steady arm of red that cross'd his way,
    His great nineteenth century watch-cry for the world to move ahead.

Ah! what toil in dark and daylight, aching brain and weary eye,
    Waiting for the magic thought to burst its cycled chrysalis,
Till at last, like some Messiah, Science brings her handmaids nigh,
    And we stand on stairs of centuries with a mighty thing like this!

He, our wild familiar, tamed to rush where'er we point or speak,
    Turning, where his footsteps wander, earth into one mighty mart;
Looming in the midst of traffic, as from out the ranks of Greek
    Tower'd the elephant, that terror sent to every Roman's heart.

Lo! at last the toiling city, where the foremost ranks of life
    Rush and strive in ceaseless struggle, ebbing but to come again;
And my heart leaps up within me, palpitating for the strife,
    In the maelstrom of swart traffic, in the toil and shock of men.

Here is life on either hand that might disturb each idle god—
    Drowsy-brain'd, with golden nectar bubbling from Hebean cup:
Life, as if some mighty giant had beneath these streets abode,
    And was stretching every muscle in his frenzy to burst up.

Shame on all the later devil's whisper, crying in our ear—
    "We are apes of broader forehead, with the miracle of speech;"
Rather nineteenth century men, that have a thought Who sent us here:
    Higher faiths are ours, my fellows, low enough for us to reach.

What though I, your feeble helpmate, stand among you all unknown?
    Yet each pulse within me, as a hand laid on responsive strings,
Vibrates to each new-shaped purpose rising up within your own,
    Ringing forth excelsior pæans for the onward march of things.

Everywhere to bound the vision, the miraculous faith of toil
    Rears, as worship, mighty monsters with their hundred arms flung loose;
Miles of vessels throbbing in their haste to fling a liquid coil
    Of commerce round the nations kneeling with their proffer'd use.

What a seven-leagued stride from Adam, and the languor of the East,
    To this century lapping round us, like a mad and hungry sea,
To the chainless brain that, like the gem, from the dark released,
    Fills the earth with triumphs, earnest of the greater yet to be.

Heavens! how the unseen multitudinous coils of serpent thought
    Draw this earth within their clasp, till, as upon the father's face,
Where the Deity of pain grew, as the throbbing sculptor wrought,
    So her rugged features lighten, lying in their firm embrace.

But I wander from the city.   Let me turn again to find
    In the waves of human faces rolling past on either side
Links that, strong as bands of iron, draw me onward to my kind,
    Till their fellowship shoots through me with electric thrills of pride.

For in them is the sure seed from which the ages yet to be,
    Rising up with great broad sickle, shall reap all its golden grain;
Then the kindlier thought and nobler use of manhood shall be free,
    And be brighter from the struggle such a sunny height to gain.

This we may not see; yet, brothers, it were something grand to die
    But to hear a shout ring upward, through the death-mists thick and vast,
Loud as when a thousand people join their voice in one long cry,
    That the world's great fight for brotherhood had clutch'd the palm at last.

It will come: I hear its promise ringing on from street to street
    (Shame if we could play for ever at the game of Hoodman-blind):
I can see it; other mark than Cain's upon each brow I meet;
    And the engine's whistle shrieks it as the city sinks behind.

Back to honest pick and shovel, and to daily task again—
    Back with nobler thoughts within me, all the higher aims to cheer;
Better, too, in having rubb'd a shoulder with my fellow-men,
    And the thinking that I help them at my lowly labour here.

 


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THE FIRST BREAK.


THE first break in our happy household hearth
    Was my broad manly son, and far away
He sleeps, while by the churchyard's holy earth
    Throb the great engines onward day by day.

Ah me! and as I hear in this strange land
    Their whistle from the distant town, I feel
As if I saw him slipping foot and hand,
    And lying crush'd beneath the heartless wheel.

Then I live o'er again that awful night,
    When to my door the whisper'd message came,
That made my heart leap up with sudden fright,
    And all the silence tremble with his name.

A splash of blood fell everywhere I look'd,
    Turning my tears to the same purple hue,
While in me rose dread fears my heart rebuked,
    As all his vanish'd life rose up to view.

They brought him home, and up the little street
    They bore him slowly to his early rest,
Laying the green sod, that of old his feet
    Had trod in Sabbath days, upon his breast.

He slept, while in my heart I bore the pain
    That still would live at times, until at last
My being's inner depths closed up again,
    And gave but little token of the past.

Then came a change.   I left that dear old spot
    Where boyhood, manhood, all had come to me—
Came here among my sons, but never brought
    My heart, for that was still beyond the sea.

Yet that one night before I left, I took
    My stand beside his grave, and with hush'd breath,
Raised to the skies a father's silent look,
    And took mute farewell of the dust beneath.

Then, turning as beneath some sudden blight,
    I stagger'd down the churchyard big with fears,
Went down the street for the last time, the night
    Around me hiding all my bitter tears.

I reach'd my lowly home, now cold and dim;
    Sat by the hearth, a shadow on my mind,
Thinking how all around me seem'd like him
    Whose dust cost such a pang to leave behind.

I sail'd.   And now between me and that home
    The ocean rolls with never-ceasing moan,
Checking all in me save my dreams, that roam
    To bring old faces nearer to my own.

But still, whenever from the distant town
    I hear the engine shriek, then far away
I wander to that grave, where up and down,
    Close by his rest, they thunder day by day.

 


_______________________

 
IN THE VANGUARD.


INTO all the onward current and this iron time that feels
    Its own way with din and clamour through this century of ours
Come I, while the toiling planet like some stricken monster reels
    In an overheat to reach the very climax of its powers.

But the ages, ever watchful of their growing higher need,
    Cry—"Before we hail him poet, glowing with the vatic mood,
He must, with his brow turn'd upward, stand like rock upon his creed,
    Ours shall be the task to shelter what may spring from where he stood."

Then I answer—"One great creed is mine, but as the blinding sun
    Draws the unseen stars in day-time, though we try in vain to see.
So the lesser creeds twine round it, as it towers in height alone;
    That one faith is trust in God and Christ and all the great To Be.

All the lesser are the social bands that knit me to my kind,
    Farther progress, higher culture, and the touch of purer thought,
Passing on the watchward 'Forward,' to another kindred mind,
    Fighting for the broader platform as an earnest fighter ought."

Then the ages pause a moment, all unnoted of the earth,
    Speak in earnest; half-heard whispers, then turn slowly round again,
Crying, "If this fellow yearns to battle for the purer birth,
    Let him pass and fight it out amid his boasted fellowmen."

So I come, then, brothers, shoulder touching shoulder in the throng;
    Shame if I could stand thus feeling all the kindred aims ye bear
With my lips shut, like Ridolpho's, as in Dante's solemn song,
    Nor give one single echo to the music leaping there.

If there be in song a hidden, talismanic force and power,
    That for ever lifts us upward to the purer life and thought,
It were something but to leave behind, though dying in an hour,
    Some stray note of music chording with the great world's as it ought;

Or, to think that in our toiling some quick fragment of that flame
    Which from nature ever clasps its coils of living fire round men,
Might be put in words by us and shot, with hundred-tongued acclaim,
    From firm heart to heart, until it struck back on our own again.

Ay, to catch in some wild frenzy, as the painter dash'd his brush
    'Gainst the passive canvas, mad to grasp the wild wave's mimic foam,
All the thought that, like a Pallas, still unseen will ever rush
    From the brain of the wide present to the grander time to come.

So the deep, forecasting poet, glowing with his rhythmic art,
    Leans against the broad-based future while his soul in visions dips;
Rising with some mighty lyric, shooting throbs from heart to heart,
    Caught when nature fell upon him with her own apocalypse.

But I come not with such lyrics—mine have not the ring and sound
    To catch the swift world's straining ear, athirst for nobler things;
Yet my hand and heart are yearning for a power to be unbound,
    That my soul may catch some music worthy of the higher strings.

"Lo, he comes," perchance some whisper, "with a thought laid out for wrong,
    Little points of poison-blisters, plentiful in modern days;
Lo, he comes with something in him that unwisely takes to song,
    Croaking from a dusty railway for a paltry boon of praise!"

Heavens! praise were worthless fruit to pluck and gather in these years,
    When the loftier thought must grow, and all the lower, baser aims
That fling roots down, like the banyan, must be torn up with our tears,
    That the future may not wear upon its brow a thousand shames. ,

What is all this earth around us but a place to wrestle in,
    Foot to foot and hand to hand with all the beasts that must be fought?
Fight it out, and let the still gods turn their thumbs up when we win,
    Like the Romans in the circus when their blood ran swift and hot.

Fight with hate and scorn and envy, fight with all that saps the man;
    We have grand, true types before us, shame on those who turn and yield!
Better lying dead, to serve as stepping-stones to raise the van,
    Than lose all this noble manhood, and return without our shield.

Oh, that some great painter, glowing with the secret of his art,
    Would place upon the canvas, when his thought was pure and high,
A dead Spartan, kill'd in fight, that we might catch with soul and heart
    The wild energy of purpose not yet quench'd within his eye!

Honour to the great and noble on whatever ground they stand,
    If they give us higher stand-points—for such office were they sent;
Honour to them, if we feel the strong grasp of an unseen hand
    Leading us to what they fought for by the pathways that they went.

In these days they speak of missions; noblest of them all is this,
    That we train our manhood upward, till the grand and fearless thrill,
Which, ere Adam lost his splendour, ran like bands of steel through his,
    Lies like fire about our hearts, to keep our purpose earnest still.

For we are not as some preach, with faithless hands that beckon doubt,
    Drops of life from godless matter struck by some stray random touch,
When the forces play'd at blind buff, but by God Himself shaped out—
    Autographs of Him in flesh, yet all unworthy to be such.

Then we dare not but move upward, though we falter in our tread,
    Though we feel around our limbs the paralysing coils of fear;
Lo! afar we hear brave whispers coming from the earnest dead,
    As the old heroic voices sung with winds in Ossian's ear.

Up, then, to our life-long fight, and fling the gage of battle down,
    Let the ages bear our word of rally onward far and quick;
Nobler usage of this manhood, from the king who wears a crown
    Down to ourselves, my brothers, working with the spade and pick!

 


_______________________

 
BILL'S LENGTH.


"ON to Bill's length," said my mate to me.
    Bill was his brother, had charge of the plates
    From Horsely's cutting to Whitefield gates,
And the two were as loving as brothers could be.

"On to Bill's length," said my mate again.
    "I wonder if he has flung into line
    That place by the bridge where we gave him the sign,
The run before last, to go up with his men.

"But here is the bridge."   It had suddenly grown
    Out of the mist.   As we shot below
    The arch, we hitch'd, and my mate cried, "Joe,
We must signal to Bill as we journey down."

Up rose the mist, and at last we could see
    The signals at Colpey junction clear.
    "Take off the brake; we have nothing to fear,
And put out the headlight," said Dick to me.

I went, but my face, as I hurried back,
    Made him come to my side with a look of alarm.
    "For God's sake," I cried, taking hold of his arm,
"Draw within the distant signals and slack."

Off went the steam, and I hung by the brake;
    Two minutes, and we had our train at a stand.
    I sprang down the steps, waving Dick with my hand
To keep back for a moment, just for my sake.

I rush'd to the front of the engine, and there,
    With a feeling of sickening horror and dread,
    Drew out from where it lay fix'd a head,
With the features half-cover'd with blood and hair.

I turn'd, and Dick (I can see him still)
    Gave a look of horror and mute appeal,
    Then moan'd as he stagger'd against the wheel,
"My God! that's the head of my brother Bill."

Just as he said: Bill had been on the rail,
    Ready to make out the day's repair,
    And the mist coming down, we had unaware
Run him down, for we always drove fast with the mail.

Dick left the line, and it never was known
    Where he went; but often I think of that day,
    And still by the bridge I can hear him say,
"We must signal to Bill as we journey down."


_______________________

 
THE SPIRIT OF THE TIMES.


COME, fling for a moment, my fellows,
    The pick and shovel aside,
And rise from the moil of our ten hours' toil
    With a heart beating high with pride.
What though our mission can do without thought,
    And the music and cunning of rhymes;
Yet shame on that bosom that will not throb
    To the spirit and march of the times.

Then, hurrah! for this rough, firm earth of ours,
    Like a lion half-roused from his den
She wakes up, and cries, while we whisper in fear,
    "Let us hush her to sleep again."
But a voice from the very footstool of God
    Cries, "Break her away from her thrall,
That our fellows may toss her from hand to hand,
    As a juggler tosses his ball."

Come, then, let us thunder our watchword still,
    "Make way for the tools and the man,"
Let the rough hand work what the thought will shape
    To its highest miraculous plan—
Till the gods, who loll at the edge of the stars,
    Look down as we labour below,
And swear by their nectar these puppets beneath
    Know at least how their planet should go.

Fling the span of the bridge o'er the foam of the sea,
    Run shafts to the centre of earth,
Wrench the coal from her grasp to the light of the sun,
    That the giant of steam may have birth.
Lay the pliant rail on her full broad breast,
    That, swift as a lion springs,
The engine may hurtle and roar—the Danton
    Of this wondrous new birth of things!

Build the ship into being from stem to stern,
    But not with wood as of yore,
But with iron plates that may laugh at the shock
    Of the thunder hammer of Thor.
Let the sea swell up in his white-lipp'd wrath,
    As the circling paddles fly,
And Neptune himself groan for want of room
    Till the iron hulk goes by.

O, fellows, but this is a wondrous age,
    When Science with faith in her eyes,
Springs up in her thirst from this planet of ours
    To the stars in front of the skies.
And we—we watch her as onward she glides
    Leaving wonders behind her track,
Like a huntsman that jerks a hawk from his wrist,
    But who will whistle her back?

Ay, who? for at length she has found her strength,
    As a tiger's may come at the sup
Of the warm first blood, and his wild fierce mood
    Like fire through his frame flashes up;
So she, and we follow as onward she leads
    With the flush of pride on her cheek,
And she makes us the greater men, though we work
    In the wake of the Roman and Greek.

Shame rest on the bigot that thinks in his heart
    She flings a-blight on our creeds,
And darkens the light that we keep to guide
    As we rush from the fable to deeds.
Out on such croakers! with one white hand
    She lifts her miracle rod
And strikes wherever we wish, while the other
    Holds on by the garments of God.

The ages behind look like infants in sleep,
    But those that look down on our time
Cry out with a hundred voices in one
    To nourish them into prime.
And, God! but we build them up to their strength,
    As an eagle will rear her young,
But their giant force, springing up like a source,
    Has never yet been sung.

Where shall he come from, the poet, whose fire
    Shall place on his wild, rough page
The spirit that lurks and forever works
    In the breast of this mighty age?
Is he yet in the cycles that loom before,
    Preparing his melody?
Let him come, and roll through my heart and soul
    His music before I die.

But now, while we wait for the roll of his words,
    Let us work in our growing strength;
For the earth in her cradle, since Adam died,
    Is up from her slumber at length.
Ay, up! in the cities that roar and fret
    With the toil and the tread of men;
And the sun shall be hurl'd from his course ere she sinks
    To her second childhood again!

Then, hurrah! for our higher fellows that work
    With this thought and its Titan powers,
And cut through the jungle of creeds and fools
    A path for this planet of ours.
And hurrah for this nineteenth century time—
    What the future may grow and be!
Ah, God! to burst up from the slumber of death
    For one wild moment to see!


_______________________

 
ON THE ENGINE AGAIN.


ONCE more on the mighty engine, boys,
    With my hand on the driver's arm,
And again at his touch through each fire-leading vein
    Throbs a flood of the life-giving charm.
Then away he speeds as a light in the north
    Shooting up makes the heavens grow pale;
At my feet the glow and the beat of his heart,
    And beneath them the ring of the rail.

Hurrah! how each sweep of his lightning limb
    Flashes swifter than that of the last,
While, wild as the flight in a dream of the night,
    The distance is galloping past.
On, on, with a madder desire in his breast
    For the space that is yet to be run,
Till a dozen slim wires stretching out on my right
    Seem to narrow and rush into one.

How my blood flushes up, like wine dash'd in a cup,
    At the headlong speed of his race,
While he shrieks in his glee, and looks back at me,
    And flings his breath in my face.
Half a world is left in the distance behind,
    Yet he never slacks in his stride,
Nor a drop of sweat is seen glancing yet
    On the iron girths of his side.

Hurrah!   I lean over and pat his neck,
    As a rider might that of his horse,
While beat goes my heart like a Cyclops at work,
    At this terrible acme of force.
I hear the ring of the rail, and the click
    Of the joint, as he roars o'er his track,
And I shriek in my frenzy, "A steed for the gods
    Or some Titan Mazeppa to back."

By heaven! but this would have been the one
    To have hurl'd with a snort and shriek
From the door of his temple, the battle car
    Of the warrior god of the Greek;
Or have led the front of those coursers that rush,
    With the dawn like foam on their breast,
And whirl the sun, through a dust of clouds,
    To his purple home in the west.

And I think that he fathoms my thoughts, for his form
    Seems to wilder energy strung,
And gleams as might that of some serpent when he
    Tightens up the last coil that he flung;
Or it may be, in wrath when he looks behind
    To leap at the light-shapen elf,
And hurl him beneath the wild rush of his feet,
    And take the reins to himself.

I turn, and lo! with a flash and a glare
    His breast is thrown open to see,
And I start in affright at the wild, fierce light
    That is leaping to clutch at me.
Then I whisper, the bloodless fear on my lip,
    As the flame tongues flicker and dance
"God, he too has a fire round his heart, like those kings
    In the Eblis hall of romance!"

But this fire within him is the nerve in his limb,
    And his pulse's hurry and shock,
As he toils, a man-made Prometheus, bound
    To the rail instead of the rock.
The coward, he dare not slip from the line,
    That is guiding his feet beneath,
For his soul would burst from him in gushes of flame,
    Like a sword drawn in haste from its sheath.

So a trust without doubt in the lines leading out
    The sinewy sweep of his length,
Keeps him still to their grasp, though his vigour within
    Fain would lift him in frolic of strength.
Ah, me! could I so keep true to my life,
    And the good that would fain lead me on,
And turn my breast, like his own great chest,
    To the war we must battle alone.

But this thought sinks away as I ask in my fear,
    Will he never halt in his speed,
But rush onward and shriek his wild watchword, "Go on,"
    Like the Jew in the legend we read?
No!   Far in the distance, in front of his goal,
    Springs upward a finger of red,
And with a death-rattle of one wild snort
    His flame-tortured spirit is dead.

And look; can that fellow, just five feet eight,
    With scarce a beard on his chin,
Can he, too, snatch at the slacks of the rein,
    Till he groans as he tightens him in?
He can.   And this Vulcan of smoke and of flame,
    With such a momentum of will,
Stands at last a grim smoky colossus in steel,
    And two rail-lengths of muscle is still.

Ay, call me, the sneer lying deep on your lip,
    The paler but cultured ape;
Lord of the brute, with the soul of a brute,
    And a cunning to fashion and shape.
I turn from your creed to this miracled deed
    We have set on twin pathways of rods;
And I know that the new flings a blush on the old,
    And that my fellows are gods.



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