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"The Engine"

Alexander Anderson

from Ballads and Sonnets (1879)

Anderson likens the creation of the "fire engine" to that of "the monster of Frankenstein's."

The Engine

"On fire-horses and wind-horses we career."
-- Carlyle.
Hurrah! for the mighty engine,
   As he bounds along his track:
Hurrah, for the life that is in him,
   And his breath so thick and black.
And hurrah for our fellows, who in their need
   Could fashion a thing like him --
With a heart of fire, and a soul of steel,
   And a Samson in every limb.

Ho! stand from that narrow path of his,
   Lest his gleaming muscles smite,
Like the flaming sword the archangel drew
   When Eden lay wrapp'd in night;
For he cares, not he, for a paltry life
   As he rushes along to the goal,
It but costs him a shake of his iron limb,
   And a shriek from his mighty soul.

Yet I glory to think that I help to keep
   His footsteps a little in place,
And he thunders his thanks as he rushes on
   In the lightning speed of his race;
And I think that he knows when he looks at me,
   That, though made of clay as I stand,
I could make him as weak as a three hours' child
   With a paltry twitch of my hand.

But I trust in his strength, and he trusts in me,
   Though made but of brittle clay,
While he is bound up in the toughest of steel,
   That tires not night or day;
But for ever flashes, and stretches, and strives,
   While he shrieks in his smoky glee --
Hurrah for the puppets that, lost in their thoughts,
   Could rub the lamp for me!

O that some Roman -- when Rome was great --
   Some quick, light Greek or two --
Could come from their graves for one half-hour
   To see what my fellows can do;
I would take them with me on this world's wild steed,
   And give him a little rein;
Then rush with his clanking hoofs through space,
   With a wreath of smoke for his mane.

I would say to them as they shook in their fear,
   "Now what is your paltry book,
Or the Phidian touch of the chisel's point,
   That can make the marble look,
To this monster of ours, that for ages lay
   In the depths of the dreaming earth,
Till we brought him out with a cheer and a shout,
   And hammer'd him into birth?"

Clank, clank went the hammer in dusty shops,
   The forge-flare went to the sky,
While still, like the monster of Frankenstein's,
   This great wild being was nigh;
Till at length he rose up in his sinew and strength,
   And our fellows could see with pride
Their grimy brows and their bare, slight arms,
   In the depths of his glancing side.

Then there rose to their lips a dread question of fear --
   "Who has in him the nerve to start
In this mass a soul that will shake and roll
   A river of life to his heart?"
Then a pigmy by jerks went up his side,
   Flung a globe of fire in his breast,
And cities leapt nearer by hundreds of miles
   At the first wild snort from his chest.

Then away he rush'd to his mission of toil,
   Wherever lay guiding rods,
And the work he could do at each throb of his pulse
   Flung a blush on the face of the gods.
And Atlas himself, when he felt his weight,
   Bent lower his quaking limb,
Then shook himself free from this earth, and left
   The grand old planet to him.

But well can he bear it, this Titan of toil,
   When his pathway yields to his tread;
And the vigour within him flares up to its height,
   Till the smoke of his breath grows red;
Then he shrieks in delight, as an athlete might,
   When he reaches his wild desire,
And from head to heel, through each muscle of steel,
   Runs the cunning and clasp of the fire.

Or, see how he tosses aside the night,
   And roars in his thirsty wrath,
While his one great eye gleams white with rage
   At the darkness that muffles his path;
And lo! as the pent-up flame of his heart
   Flashes out from behind its bars,
It gleams like a bolt flung from heaven, and rears
   A ladder of light to the stars.

Talk of the sea flung back in its wrath
   By a line of unyielding stone,
Or the slender clutch of a thread-like bridge,
   That knits two valleys in one!
Talk of your miracle-working wires,
   And their world-embracing force,
But himmel! give me the bits of steel
   In the mouth of the thunder-horse!

Ay, give me the beat of his fire-fed breast,
   And the shake of his giant frame,
And the sinews that work like the shoulders of Jove
   When he launches a bolt of flame;
And give me that Lilliput rider of his,
   Stout and wiry and grim,
Who can vault on his back as he puffs his pipe,
   And whisk the breath from him.

Then hurrah for our mighty engine, boys;
   He may roar and fume along
For a hundred years ere a poet arise
   To shrine him in worthy song;
Yet if one with the touch of the gods on his lips,
   And his heart beating wildly and quick,
Should rush into song at this demon of ours,
   Let him sing, too, the shovel and pick.