Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE AMERICAN FIREMAN, by CHRISTOPHER BANNISTER



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THE AMERICAN FIREMAN, by            
First Line: A clamor and clatter of galloping hoofs
Last Line: Had half such a guerdon won.
Subject(s): Fire; Firefighters; Heat; Smoke; Water


A CLAMOR and clatter of galloping hoofs
With their rhythm of granite and steel,
A clangor of gongs resounding along
From beetling block to block,
And out of the dark with many a spark
Great engines rush and reel,
The wagons with hose, the ladders and hooks,
And ever the sudden shock
That the shout of "Fire!" thrills into the night,
That the burning pine and the eddying light
Bring home to the heart to make it leap,
To the feet to make them race
Wherever the cries and confusion arise
And the crowds press on apace.

Enveloping every darkling height
Which the storeyed canyons lift,
From the seething caldron underneath,
The billowing vapors swirl;
On the shrinking crowd with a jangling loud
The hose-carts sway, and swift
At the corners drop the lengthening bands,
And on to the burning whirl;
But the engine ends its fiery trail
With the hose made fast and an answering wail
As the helmeted Chief in shadowy white
Through the glooming trumpets, "Play!"
And the pipemen grip at the golden lip
Where the gushing waters spray.

Through pillared smoke from the windows a-row
Huge flashes shimmer and sweep
To redden the faces of men in the street
And the face of the clouds in the sky;
There's a clashing of glass, and the lanterned men pass
As the arrowy fountains leap,
And hoarsening, echoing noises go up
Where the cornices smoulder on high;
While over the din with a pulsing hum
The thunder and purr of the engines come,
And the meteors rise from their quivering throats
To fall by their vibrant frames,
Till the murkiest gleam turns pallid with steam
As their showers drown the flames.

On the roofs around in the tremulous light
There are dusky shapes discerned;
There are those who haul great ribands of pipe
Aloft by the sheerest strength;
There are glimpsing forms in the midst of storms
By flickering fire-gusts burned;
There are mighty ladders alive with men
Uplifting their fathoms of length;
And by them all and over them all
Was the staunch old Chief with his cheer and call,
With a wit that made this machine of men
And engines a living whole,
With a quick resource and an undrained force
That gave it responsive soul.

All this the gathering throng below
Can see through the glimmer afar;
With a shout outflung for each fiery tongue,
They cheer as it were at a game;
They sigh for the black of the night brought back;
Nor think of the desperate war,
Of the maddening toil, and the reek to breathe,
And the garments of shuddering flame:
For if ever they reckoned the direful harm
And the seething fate and the long alarm
That the firemen fends from all they love
By his duty simply done,
No warrior a-stain with the blood of his slain
Had half such a guerdon won.





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