Alexander Anderson

1845-1909 / Scotland

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 the 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 of 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 spin,
Say half-a-dozen abreast,
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 the Laöcoon
When the last dread circle was 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 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,
Falls down 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 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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