Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, A SONG OF LABOUR; DEDICATED TO MY FELLOW-WORKERS WITH PICK AND SHOVEL, by ALEXANDER ANDERSON



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A SONG OF LABOUR; DEDICATED TO MY FELLOW-WORKERS WITH PICK AND SHOVEL, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Let us sing, my toiling brothers, with our rough, rude voice a song
Last Line: Labour's mightiest epic rolling through the panting heart of toil.
Alternate Author Name(s): Surfaceman
Subject(s): Labor & Laborers; Railroads; Work; Workers; Railways; Trains


LET us sing, my toiling Brothers, with our rough, rude voice a song
That shall live behind, nor do us in the after ages wrong,
But forever throb and whisper strength to nerve our fellow kind
As they rise to fill our footsteps and the space we leave behind.
What though hand and form be rugged? better then for Labour's mart—
I have never heard that Nature changed the colour of the heart—
For the God above hath made us one in flesh and blood with kings,
But the lower use is ours, and all the force of rougher things.
Then, my Brothers, sing to Labour, as the sun-brown'd giant stands
Like an Atlas with this planet shaking in his mighty hands;
Brawny arm'd, and broad, and swarthy, keeping in with shout and groan,
In the arch of life the keystone, that the world may thunder on;
Ever toiling, ever sweating, ever knowing that to-day
Is the footstool for the coming years to reach a higher sway.
Up, then, we, his rugged children, as the big hours move and pant,
For that cannot be but noble what he claims and cannot want:
Sing, and let his myriad voices bear the burden far along,
While we hail the mighty engine as the spirit of our song!

Arm to arm, and let the metals into proper range be thrown,
Let us smooth the iron pathway to the monster coming on.
Lo! he dawns adown the distance, and his iron footway rings
As he bounds, a wander'd meteor, muffled up in smoky wings—
Earth beneath his mighty footsteps trembles at the sudden load,
As of old the flood Scamander at the falling of the god.
Give him freedom, strength he needs not, only space and bound to fly,
As at night, in starry silence, glides a planet through the sky—
Thus he comes, the earth-born splendour, and with sudden shriek and gasp
On he flames, the Jove of Commerce, with the lightnings in his grasp.
O, my Brothers, this is something, in the fret and rush of days,
Worthy of our love and wonder, and the throbbing out of praise;
Then another wilder pæan for this march of thought and mind,
Some ecstatic dithyrambus that shall deify our kind.

Arm to arm, and let the metals into proper range be thrown,
Let us shape the iron pathway for the monster coming on;
Make his footing sure and steady, fitting for a thing like him,
Rolling out his seven-leagued paces smoother than a bird can skim;
Welding city unto city, and as with strong withes of steel
Drawing traffic into method, till his muscles shake and reel;
Stretching out, Briareus-like, a hundred arms of sudden stroke,
Rolling upward to the darken'd heavens Python-coils of smoke;
Touching, like the gods of fable, all things into noble strife,
As before the heated sculptor flash'd the statue into life.
O, what strength shall be his portion in the coming reach of time,
When his sinews swell and ripen into firm and perfect prime,
He shall be the tireless monster that like Gulliver shall lead
Busy peoples to each other only with an iron thread.

Heart! but this grand world rools onward through the shadows of the years,
Swift as fell the reckless Phæton headlong through the startled spheres;
And along with it we wrestle, shaping bounds we slowly reach,
For this knowledge is a master whose first aim is to unteach.
So, he moves with time and patience, working with a careful heed,
Growing more and more in earnest when he moulds the perfect deed;
Therefore guide him well, and listen to his slightest spoken word,
For a simple note will sometimes lead us to a fuller chord;
And the finish'd triumph with us shall a hundredfold repay
All the toil, and search, and panting for the source of purer day.
"But," says one, who still will murmur in the camp of brotherhood,
"Progress comes with tardy footsteps, and can do the grave no good."
There but spoke the Cynic, Brothers, curbing down with strongest steel
All the width of human purpose, all that brain can do and feel;
Scorning ever outward action, but to wrap himself in toils
Spun to catch the things that wither, spun to catch the dust that soils.
Shame on such! they are not worthy of the common breath they draw,
Since with it they make existence wither to a narrow law.
Wider range and freër action, nobler maxims for my breath;
I would wish my fellows success from the very jaws of death:
Death! a moment's cunning darkness flung across the trembling eyes
As we flash into the spirit cradled in a wild surprise.
Then what motions come upon us, golden laws of sudden calm,
Raining down eternal silence, raining down eternal balm.
Dare I fix my vision further, deeming that we mould this mind,
But to look in steady splendour on the toiling of our kind?
Heart! but this were something nobler than the poet ever felt
When the fought-for happy laurel clasp'd his forehead like a belt;
When the liquid fire of genius, rainbow colour'd, flash'd and glow'd
All its mighty beams above him with the splendour of a god,
Wider in its stretch and grandeur than the brain could ever dream
To look down upon our fellows from some planet's blinding gleam,
Watching with seraphic vision, grasping with delighted soul,
All the goals to which they hurry as the moments shake and roll,
Linking with an unseen quickness vigour to the tasks they do,
Touching each with fresher impulse as a nobler comes in view.
Then when triumph crowns their striving, start to hear the heaven sublime
Fill its azure arch with plaudits echoing from the throat of time;
And to hear the poets singing far above the rush of feet
Epithalamiums of madness when the links of success meet.
This is frenzy, and the overstretching of unhealthy strings,
Let us touch a chord that trembles to the breath of higher things.
Rash in him who sings unworthy, looking not within his heart
For the counsel that should guide him to the honours of his art.
"Sing you thus?" I hear you question, and I answer you again,
I but fit me to that measure chance flings blindly down on men,
Which requires nor heart nor passion, but the will that makes a voice—
Mighty poets sing by impulse, and the lesser but by choice.
"Yet you claim the meed of poet?" and I answer firm and strong,
Count me only as a poet, Brothers, while I sing this song.

Arm to arm, and let the metals into proper range be thrown,
Let us shape the iron pathway for the monster coming on.
What though we be feeble puppets with a little vigour crown'd,
Yet this task is ours, to fence his footsteps into proper bound;
Therefore guide him well, nor tamper with the thread that leads his powers,
Since the splendour of his mission flings a dignity on ours.

As the silent sage at midnight shapes his cunning thoughts to smooth
Pathways through the world's wild jungles for the steady tramp of truth;
As the pioneer that fells the sounding forest tree by tree,
With a mighty thought that trembles to the settlement to be;
As the sentinel who slowly paces as the night hours fly,
With the lives of sleeping thousands hanging on his watchful eye;
As upon the field of Sempach in the bleeding Switzer's breast
Freedom found her purple dwelling, giving to a nation rest;
As the coral insect toiling in the ocean's mighty vast
Rears a giant's labour upward through the swaying surge at last;
So the specks that dot existence, seeming blind and aimless still,
Knit in one, are levers waiting for the touch of thought and will.
Thus are we but toiling units, rough at heart and brown in face,
Noble only being useful, helpful in a humble place;
Filling up the ruts existence furrows with his heavy wain,
That the richer hearts behind may start and sow the fruitful grain;
For we clothe with rougher muscle circles of a mighty whole,
Moving at the touch of fellows with a greater breadth of soul.
But I crave not higher mission than to shape the ends they think,
Deeming I am all but godlike in the holding of a link.
And this link for ever widens, as their restless spirits teach,
Till it forms a chain of union ringing from the heart of each;
Break it and a gap arises never seen until it broke,
As the wires, when cut, are traitors to the sentence-breathing shock;
Heedless of such bond of union grapple we with erring mind,
Feeling not the mighty impulse streaming from our greater kind,
Which, even as the spreading glory waiting on the dying sun,
Shoots along this link that binds us till we feel ourselves as one;
And we grow into their triumph as their works rise up sublime,
Like a book that lies before you glowing with some poet's rhyme;
And the spirit of the minstrel, leaping distance, shoots along,
With a monarch's footsteps marching through the pathways of his song.

Thus the mighty who have labour'd in the ages sunk behind
Knit their spirit to that purpose which they left among their kind;
And forever as the groaning Ages trample under foot
Hydras born of sleeping Wisdom when it pleased her to be mute;
And wherever slow Improvement wanders with a laggard's pace—
Like the Cynic with his lantern roaming in the market-place—
There their power of brain is busy, bringing with its potent rod
Genii from all points of heaven, and sets them working with a nod,
In the whirl and sweep of traffic, in the long and restless street,
Multitudinous with its echoes ringing from a thousand feet;
In the clash and clang of hammers, in the anvil's busy sound,
In the belt that like a serpent whirls in hot pursuit around;
In the crash of tooth and pinion slowly forming linkèd rounds;
In the mighty beam that labours, like a Hercules in bounds;
In the slightest puff of steam that specks the ocean far away;
In the sail that dips its shadow far within the lucent bay;
In the furnace darting upward lurid gleams to greet the skies,
Till they start at such a welcome with a flush of red surprise;
In whatever rises up for myriad use with loud acclaim;
In whatever sets for Progress stepping-stones to reach her aim.
But it hath a deeper meaning, and a greater strength and skill,
In the clanking of the rail, and in the engine's thunder still;
For the might of what our fellows can with cunning fingers frame
Moves with him as on he flashes in great bursts of smoke and flame.
Lo, at times as on he strides a quick and glowing frenzy steals
From his sinews swift as light, and from the roar and rush of wheels,
Quick as when the far-off mountains shake themselves from summer mist,
Or the virtue to the woman when she touch'd the hem of Christ—
Filling all the soul within me with a wonder at my kind,
And the nerve and battle onward of this ever-restless mind.
In such fits and heats I wander half a step before the years,
Taking to myself the vision forethought sets apart for seers;
And I see a healthier colour, promise of a Titan's prime,
And a mightier sinew working on the naked arm of Time;
And behind him roars nor cannon, nor the champ of fretting steed,
But the nations leaning forward ready for the swordless deed.
But he waves them back and questions, "Am not I the thought and type
That shall shake the perfect blossom, knowing when the seed is ripe?
Am I not the unseen symbol giving every moment birth,
Breathing with a finger resting on the iron pulse of earth,
Waiting till I feel a calmer action in the glowing vein,
And a wider stretch of bosom ere I stoop to sow the grain?"
This he whispers, and forever as he shakes his restless wings
Silent sands within his hour-glass slip away like earthly things.
But the cycles hid behind him, peering from their shadows still,
Wear upon their brow a purpose which they tremble to fulfil;
Then, for songs to hail their coming, lyrics from some burning heart
Beating with the perfect mission, glowing with the given art.
Higher task is not for poets than to touch with sounding chords
Gleaming Memnons of advance, and shape their whispers into words.
This the task for which the laurel glitters, as upon the thorn
Woven webs of silky slightness swaying in the flush of morn.
Let him take such wreath unblushing, knowing that it is his right,
But his inspiration only as he feels his given might.
Then, when round his brow its coolness circles with inspiring clasp,
Let his thoughts take deeper music, wider range, and higher grasp;
Let him sing the better yearning running through our noble strife,
As from bough to bough the juices creeping start the buds to life;
And the promise growing fuller with the rounding of each year—
O, the future is a giant. We have but his shadow here!

What though Science fills her nectar lavishly in golden cups,
And the earth like a Bacchante all unwitting reels and sups;
She is yet a village maiden, Nature touching not her life,
Girt in dreams of busy childhood, knowing not the aim of wife;
Wearing simple vesture loose in fold that opens to disclose
Breasts that nurse a wish to blossom like the twin buds of a rose,
Then what wonders will they suckle when the juices in her blood
Slowly swell their balmy outline to the round of womanhood:
Like the gods that from Olympus stole into the arms of earth,
Made their nature as a mortal's, and a monster was the birth;
So the thought and might of doing, slipping into her embrace,
Shall be fruitful, and wonder help the labour of our race.
But from him of double semblance shall she keep the wish'd-for prize,
Heeding not the shallow purpose peering out from narrow eyes;
Only he who toils and battles with an earnest broad desire
Shall receive her fruitful favours, and our fellows shall be higher—
Higher in the nobler feelings, in the wider aims that come,
Pledging all their good to mankind, ever potent, ever dumb.
They shall ride, like one in armour, through the wastes and fens of life,
Giving fight wherever error rears a lance and shield for strife.
They shall usher in the primal order of a happy earth,
Working with their cunning only that a Good may be the birth.

This shall Science do as earnest of her firm and matron prime,
When her passion fruits are growing strong in limb to wrestle time;
They shall watch her slightest motion as she lifts her magic wand,
Rush like Ariels at her sign, and roll the earth into her hand.
Who are they that curb their vision, lifting up with finger tips
Colour'd glass and watch her, crying, that she reels into eclipse?
Narrow hearts that will not widen, souls that in their shells of clay
Flicker up like feeble tapers, but to pass in smoke away;
Prophets that should walk this earth with all their evil croakings wrung
As the shadows swept by Dante in the hell he made and sung;
Ghostly faces looking backward through the shadows thick and vast,
Like Remorse upon a deathbed writhing round to view the past.
Such should be their doom who torture Wisdom into selfish deeds,
Deeming that the earth should wither to give space to sow their creeds.
This were faith in scope and keeping with the brute's within his den;
Let them give their creeds to idiots, but the world to toiling men:
What is all this flash of triumph, from our very footsteps brought,
But the promise of a brighter lying yet unknown to thought—
Brighter in the strength to usher in the many varied use,
As a single bud foreruns a thousand forming in the juice.
Yet we grow apace and prosper: All that hath a strength and nerve
Is, like Samson taken captive, made to bow the knee and serve;
And we peer with deepest cunning into seeming useless things,
Train them to a little method, and a miracle upsprings.
Lo, the motion of a finger trifling with a simple wire
Shakes the nations into whispers ere a moment can expire;
And a slight and simple needle shaking in its paltry case
Turns the boundless stretch of ocean to a fearless dwelling-place.
Thus we overleap those wonders kept by ever niggard Time,
Heirlooms of dead worlds behind him ere a blight fell on their prime;
Ah, if they could look upon us from the gloom and dust of years,
Feel our mighty grasp and purpose as the goal we strive for nears;
See the very germ, yet hidden when they pass'd in death away,
Growing into perfect blossom with their fellows yet in clay—
Think you would they turn in wonder to the calm of their abodes,
Blush at all their strength, and worship those who toil'd below as gods?
This is but a wilder fancy creeping through our rugged song;
Yet a burst of rhythmic madness cannot do our fellows wrong,
For in them is nerve and action, will to do and will to dare,
And the demons of their magic work their wonders every-where.
Hearken! as the world rolls onward with a slow and toiling sound,
All their voices swell and mingle in triumphal hymns around.
Come they from the dash of paddles urging through the spray and foam,
Freights of earnest bosoms outward, freights of smiling faces home;
From the lunge of pistons working scant of room to breathe and pant,
Yet like slaves do all the feats their ever-cunning masters want;
From the whirring of the spindle in the hot and dusty room,
From the mazes of the wheel, and from the complicated loom,
From the furnace belching outward molten forms at their desire,
Like Enceladus upspringing through his hill of smoke and fire:
Mighty sounds are these, but mightier rush with everlasting hail
From the thunder of the engine and the clanking of the rail.
Ah! the monster that shall mould and make the coming cycles strong—
Shame on me that could desert the inspiration of my song!
So, another pæan, Brothers, ere the fancy sinks away,
Ere we take the voiceless measure ranging through our toiling day.

Arm to arm, and lay the metals, glowing with but one desire—
To do honour to the mightiest of the worshippers of fire.
All the great in early fable, from the mighty Anakim
To each thew'd and swarthy Cyclops, are as nothing unto him.
Yet he seeks our aid and mutters, shaking in his sudden wrath—
Give me but a hand to guide me, give me but a fitting path:
And he snorts and shrieks in triumph as at every bound and rasp,
Like twin threads laid out in distance, all the iron meets his grasp.
Dare we, then, as unto mortals, whisper fear and death to him,
When such breadth of strength like lightning flashes through his heart and limb;
When, within his throbbing bosom, bound with glowing links of fire,
Lies his wildest being panting with the thoughts that cannot tire;
And they hiss, and leap, and flicker, licking up with fiery breath
Strength to feed his sinews working like the flash of swords beneath?
O, I rise from out my weakness as he flares along my view,
And I deem that I am mighty in the labour others do;
For the Frankensteins who made him part by part and limb by limb
Had the same soul beating in them as my own at seeing him.
Arm to arm, then, lay the metals, let him roll along the rods,
Like Prometheus through the heavens rushing from the angry gods.
Lo! I look into the ages that in spirit we may see
When the hand of death hath stripp'd us from this warp of action free,
And I see this monster stretching his untiring sinews still,
Keeping all his strength, but blindly giving unto men his will;
And they—Lilliputs in muscle, he not deeming them as such,—
Urge his ringing footsteps onward with a paltry finger-touch;
And they link him unto wonders, and their triumphs still increase
Till some awe-struck fellow whispers, "It were time for us to cease."
But they turn and shout an answer, high rebuke in all its tone,
"Shame! and have another planet growing mightier than our own!
Out on such a craven's whisper, all unworthy of our powers,
And this monster toiling with us, making all his being ours.
Forward, then, and let us fashion wider space for his career,
Till the old earth reels and staggers as his sounding foot-steps near."
Then they turn to all their labour, shaping as their thought will speak
Pathways into which he glides with iron clutch and madden'd shriek;
And forever as their success brings a wilder aim in view,
Flashes out by fits a wonder at the miracles they do.
Said we not the future's shadow only falls upon us here
As a cloud's upon a hill when all the rest is shining clear?
But to them, our larger fellows of the ages yet to be,
He shall rise, as gods are statured, huge of limb, and broad, and free;
And in frenzy they shall hail him, bring their trophies to his feet,
Then rush on in throngs, and strive to make their wondrous gains complete:
While through all their fret and hurry he, the monster of our song,
Like a wild earth-bound Immortal shall in thunder flash along,
Clasping all things in his vigour, as a serpent flings his coil,
Labour's mightiest Epic rolling through the panting heart of Toil.





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