Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, ON THE ENGINE BY NIGHT, by ALEXANDER ANDERSON



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ON THE ENGINE BY NIGHT, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: On the engine in the night-time, with the darkness all around
Last Line: I grew prouder of my labour and my little gift of song.
Alternate Author Name(s): Surfaceman
Subject(s): Labor & Laborers; Night; Railroads; Work; Workers; Bedtime; Railways; Trains


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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