Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, IN THE VANGUARD, by ALEXANDER ANDERSON



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IN THE VANGUARD, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Into all the onward current and this iron time that feels
Last Line: Down to ourselves, my brothers, working with the spade and pick!
Alternate Author Name(s): Surfaceman
Subject(s): Labor & Laborers; Railroads; Work; Workers; Railways; Trains


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!





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