Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, INSCRIPTIONS FOR THE CALEDONIAN CANAL, by ROBERT SOUTHEY

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INSCRIPTIONS FOR THE CALEDONIAN CANAL, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Athwart the island here, from sea to sea
Last Line: Opening a passage through the wilds subdued.
Subject(s): Canals; Earth; Islands; Sea; Travel; World; Ocean; Journeys; Trips


Athwart the island here, from sea to sea,
Between these mountain barriers, the Great Glen
Of Scotland offers to the traveller,
Through wilds impervious else, an easy path,
Along the shore of rivers and of lakes,
In line continuous, whence the waters flow
Dividing east and west. Thus had they held
For untold centuries their perpetual course
Unprofited, till in the Georgian age
This mighty work was planned, which should unite
The lakes, control the innavigable streams,
And through the bowels of the land deduce
A way, where vessels which must else have braved
The formidable Cape, and have essayed
The perils of the Hyperborean Sea,
Might from the Baltic to the Atlantic deep
Pass and repass at will. So when the storm
Careers abroad, may they securely here,
Through birchen groves, green fields, and pastoral hills,
Pursue their voyage home. Humanity
May boast this proud expenditure, begun
By Britain in a time of arduous war;
Through all the efforts and emergencies
Of that long strife continued, and achieved
After her triumph, even at the time
When national burdens bearing on the State
Were felt with heaviest pressure. Such expense
Is best economy. In growing wealth,
Comfort and spreading industry, behold
The fruits immediate! And in days to come,
Fitly shall this great British work be named
With whatsoe'er of most magnificence,
For public use Rome in her plenitude
Of power effected, or all-glorious Greece,
Or Egypt, mother-land of all the arts.


Thou who hast reached this level, where the glede,
Wheeling between the mountains in mid-air,
Eastward or westward as his gyre inclines,
Descries the German or the Atlantic Sea,
Pause here; and, as thou seest the ship pursue
Her easy way serene, call thou to mind
By what exertions of victorious art
The way was opened. Fourteen times upheaved,
The vessel hath ascended, since she changed
The salt sea water for the highland lymph;
As oft in imperceptible descent
Must, step by step, be lowered, before she woo
The ocean breeze again. Thou hast beheld
What basins, most capacious of their kind,
Enclose her, while the obedient element
Lifts or depones its burthen. Thou hast seen
The torrent hurrying from its native hills
Pass underneath the broad canal inhumed,
Then issue harmless thence; the rivulet
Admitted by its intake peaceably,
Forthwith by gentle overfall discharged:
And haply too thou hast observed the herds
Frequent their vaulted path, unconscious they
That the wide waters on the long low arch
Above them, lie sustained. What other works
Science, audacious in emprize, hath wrought,
Meet not the eye, but well may fill the mind.
Not from the bowels of the land alone,
From lake and stream hath their diluvial wreck
Been scooped to form this navigable way;
Huge rivers were controlled, or from their course
Shouldered aside; and at the eastern mouth,
Where the salt ooze denied a resting place,
There were the deep foundations laid, by weight
On weight immersed, and pile on pile down-driven,
Till steadfast as the everlasting rocks
The massive outwork stands. Contemplate now
What days and nights of thought, what years of toil,
What inexhaustive springs of public wealth
The vast design required; the immediate good,
The future benefit progressive still;
And thou wilt pay the tribute of due praise
To those whose counsels, whose decrees, whose care,
For after ages formed the generous work.


Where these capacious basins, by the laws
Of the subjacent element receive
The ship, descending or upraised, eight times,
From stage to stage with unfelt agency
Translated; fitliest may the marble here
Record the Architect's immortal name.
Telford it was, by whose presiding mind
The whole great work was planned and perfected;
Telford, who o'er the vale of Cambrian Dee,
Aloft in air, at giddy height upborne,
Carried his navigable road, and hung
High o'er Menaï's straits the bending bridge;
Structures of more ambitious enterprise
Than minstrels in the age of old romance
To their own Merlin's magic lore ascribed.
Nor hath he for his native land performed
Less in his proud design; and where his piers
Around her coast from many a fisher's creek
Unsheltered else, and many an ample port
Repel the assailing storm; and where his roads
In beautiful and sinuous line far seen,
Wind with the vale, and win the long ascent,
Now o'er the deep morass sustained, and now
Across ravine, or glen, or estuary,
Opening a passage through the wilds subdued.

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