Ebenezer Elliott

Steam at Sheffield

from The Poetical Works of Ebenezer Elliott, A New and Revised Edition in Two Volumes, ed. by Rev. Edwin Elliott

TO CHARLES HINDLEY, Esq., M. P., one of our creators of national wealth – who, while they enrich themselves, silently reproach the splendid drones of society, by increasing the productive capital of the state – I inscribe this humble poem, wishing it were worthier.

  Well, gaze thou on the hills, and hedge-side flowers!
  But blind old Andrew will with me repair
  To yonder massive pile, where useful powers,
  Toiling unconsciously, aloud declare
5   That man, too, and his works, are grand and fair.
  Son of the far-famed self-taught engineer,
  Whose deeds were marvels in the bygone days!
  Ill it becomes thee, with ungrateful sneer,
  The trade-fed town and townsmen to dispraise.
10   Why rail at Traffic's wheels, and crowded ways?
  Trade makes thee rich; then, William, murmur not
  Through Trade's black vapours ever round thee rise.
  Trade makes thee sage; lo! thou read'st Locke and Scott!
  While the poor rustic, beast-like, lives and dies,
15   Blind to the page of priceless mysteries!
  Fair is the bow that spans the shower, thou say'st,
  But all unlovely, as an eyeless skull,
  Is man's black workshop in the streeted waste.
  And can the city's smoke be worse than dull,
20   If Martin found it more than beautiful?
  Did he, did Martin steal immortal hues
  From London's cloud, or Carron's gloomy glare -
  Light-darken'd shadows, such as Milton's muse
  Cast o'er th'Eternal - and shalt thou despair
25   To find, where man is found, the grand and fair?
  Can'st thou love Nature, and not love the sound
  Of cheerful labour? He who loathes the crew
  To whose hard hands the toiling oar is bound,
  Is dark spirit, bilious as his hue,
30   And bread-tax dyed in Tory lust's true blue.
  Thou lov'st the woods, the rocks, the quiet fields!
  But tell me, if thou can'st, enthusiast wan!
  Why the broad town to thee no gladness yields?
  If thou lov'st Nature sympathize with man;
35   For he and his are parts of Nature's plan.
  But can'st thou love her if she love not thee?
  She will be wholly loved, or not at all.
  Thou lov'st her streams, her flowers; thou lov'st to see
  The gorgeous halcyon strike the bulrush tall
40   Thou lov'st to feel the veil of evening fall,
  Like gentlest slumber, on a happy bride;
  For these are Nature's! Art thou not hers too?
  A portion of her pageantry and pride;
  In all thy passions, all thou seek'st to do,
45   And all thou dost? The earth-worm is allied
  To God, and will not have her claims denied,
  Though thou disown her fellow worm, and scorn
  The lowly beauty of his toil and care.
  Sweet is the whisper of the breezy morn
50   To waking streams. And hath the useful share
  No splendour? Doth the tiller's cottage wear
  No smiles for thee? How beauteous are the dyes
  That grove and hedgerow from their plumage shake!
  And cannot the loud hammer, which supplies
55   Food for the blacksmith's rosy children, make
  Sweet music to thy heart? Behold the snake
  Couch'd on its bed of beams. The scaly worm
  Is lovely, coil'd above the river's flow;
  But there is nobler beauty in that form
60   That welds the hissing steel, with ponderous blow;
  Yea, there is majesty on that calm brow,
  And in those eyes the light of thoughts divine!
  Come, blind old Andrew Turner! link in mine
  Thy time-tried arm, and cross the town with me;
  For there are wonders mightier far than thine;
  Watt! and his million-feeding enginery!
5   Steam-miracles of demi-deity!
  Thou can'st not see, unnumber'd chimneys o'er,
  From chimneys tall the smoky cloud aspire;
  But thou can'st hear the unwearied crash and roar
  Of iron powers, that, urged by restless fire,
10   Toil ceaseless, day and night, yet never tire,
  Or say to greedy man, Thou dost amiss.
  Oh, there is glorious harmony in this
  Tempestuous music of the giant, Steam,
  Commingling growl, and roar, and stamp, and hiss,
  With flame and darkness! Like a Cyclop's dream,
5   It stuns our wondering souls, that start and scream
  With joy and terror; while, gold on snow
  Is morning's beam on Andrew's hoary hair!
  Like gold on pearl is morning on his brow!
  His hat is in his hand, his head is bare;
10   And, rolling wide his sightless eyes, he stands
  Before this metal god, that yet shall chase
  The tyrant idols of remotest lands,
  Preach science to the desert, and efface
  The barren curse from every pathless place
15   Where virtues have not yet atoned for crimes.
  He loves the thundery of machinery!
  It is beneficent thunder, though, at times,
  Like heaven's red bolt, it lightens fatally.
  Poor blind old man! what would he give to see
20   This bloodless Waterloo! this hell of wheels;
  This dreadful speed, that seems to sleep and snore,
  And dream of earthquake! In his brain he feels
  The mighty arm of mist, that shakes the shore
  Along the throng'd canal, in ceaseless roar
25   Urging the heavy forge, the clanking mill,
  The rapid tilt, and screaming, sparkling stone.
  Is this the spot where stoop'd the ash-crown'd hill
  To meet the vale, when bee-loved banks, o'ergrown
  With broom and woodbine, heard the cushat lone
30   Coo for her absent love? - Oh, ne'er again
  Will Andrew pluck the freckled foxglove here!
  How like a monster, with a league-long mane,
  Or Titan's rocket, in its high career,
  Towers the dense smoke! The falcon, wheeling near,
35   Turns, and the angry crow seeks purer skies.
  At first, with lifted hands in mute surprise,
  Old Andrew listens to the mingled sound
  Of hammer, roll and wheel. His sightless eyes
  Brighten with generous pride, that man hath found
5   Redemption from the manacles which bound
  His powers for many an age. A poor man's boy
  Constructed these grand works! Lo! like the sun,
  Shines knowledge now on all! He thinks with joy
  Of that futurity which is begun -
10   Of that great victory which shall be won
  By Truth o'er Falsehood; and already feels
  Earth shaken by the conflict. But a low
  Deep sigh escapes him; sadness o'er him steals,
  Shading his noble heart with selfish woe;
15   Yes, Envy clouds his melancholy brow.
  What! shall the good old times, in aught of good,
  Yield to the days of cant and parish pay,
  The sister-growth of twenty years of blood?
  His ancient fame, he feels, is past away;
20   He is no more the wonder of his day -
  The far-praised, self-taught, matchless engineer!
  But he is still the man who planted here
  The first steam-engine seen in all the shire -
  Laugh'd at by many an Eldon far and near -
  While sundry sage Newcastles, in their ire,
5   Swore that a roasting in his boiler fire
  Would best reward the maker. Round his form
  The spirit of the Moors wrapp'd fold on fold
  Of thund'rous gloom, and flash'd th'indignant storm
  From his dilating eyes, when first uproll'd
10   The volumed smoke, that, like a prophet, told
  Of horrors yet to come. His angry scowl
  Cast night at noon o'er Rivelin and Don,
  And scared o'er Loxley's springs the screaming fowl;
  For rill and river listen'd, every one,
15   When the old Tory put his darkness on.
  Full soon his deep and hollow voice forth brake,
  Cursing the tilting, tipling, strange machine;
  And then the lightning of his laughter spake,
  Calling the thing a Whimsy. To this day
20   A Whimsy it is call'd, wherever seen;
  And strangers, travelling by the mail, may see
  The coal-devouring monster, as he rides,
  And wonder what the uncouth beast may be
  That canters, like a horse with wooden sides,
25   And lifts his food from depths where night presides,
  With winking taper, o'er the in-back'd slave,
  Who, laid face upward, hews the black stone down.
  Poor living corpse! He labours in the grave;
  Poor two-legg'd mole! He mines for half-a-crown
30   From morn to eve - that wolves, who sleep on down,
  And pare our bones, may eat their bread-tax warm!
  But could poor Andrew's Whimsy boast an arm,
  A back like these? Upstart of Yesterday!
  Thou doubler of the rent of every farm,
  From John o' Groat's to Cornwall's farthest bay!
5   Engine of Watt! unrivall'd is thy sway.
  Compared with thine, what is the tyrant's power?
  His might destroys, while thine creates and saves.
  Thy triumphs live and grow, like fruit and flower;
  But his are writ in blood, and read on graves!
10   Let him yoke all his regimented slaves,
  And bid them strive to wield thy tireless fly,
  As thou canst wield it. Soon his baffled bands
  Would yield to thee, despite his wrathful eye.
  Lo! unto thee both Indies lift their hands!
15   The vapoury pulse is felt on farthest strands!
  Thou tirest not, complainest not - though blind
  As human pride (earth's lowest dust) art thou.
  Child of pale thought! dread masterpiece of mind!
  To-morrow thou wilt labour, deaf as now!
20   And must we say thou soul is wanting here?
  No; there he moves, the thoughtful engineer,
  The soul of all this motion; rule in hand,
  And coarsely apron'd - simple, plain, sincere -
  An honest man; self-taught to understand
5   The useful wonders which he built and plann'd.
  Self-taught to read and write - a poor man's son,
  Though poor no more - how would he sit alone,
  When the hard labour of the day was done,
  Bent o'er his table, silent as a stone,
10   To make the wisdom of the wise his own!
  How oft of Brindley's deeds th'apprenticed boy
  Would speak delighted, long ere freedom came!
  And talk of Watt! while, shedding tears of joy,
  His widow'd mother heard, and hoped the name
15   Of her poor boy, like theirs, would rise to fame.
  Was not her love prophetic? Is he famed?
  Yea; for deep foresight, and improving skill,
  And patience, which might make the proud ashamed.
  Built by himself, lo! yonder, from the hill
20   His dwelling peeps! - and she is with him still;
  Happy to live, and well prepared to die!
  How unlike him is Grip, the upstart sly,
  Who on the dunghill, whence he lately rose,
  Lost his large organ of identity,
  And left his sire to starve! Alas, he knows
5   No poor man now! But every day he goes
  To visit his nine acres, pitiless
  Of him who tills the road, that shoeless boor
  Who feeds his brother exile in distress.
  Hark! Muttering oaths, he wonders why our poor
10   Are not all Irish! Eyeing, then, the moor,
  He swears, if he were king, what he would do!
  Our corn-importing rogues should have a fall;
  For he would plough the rocks, and trench them too.
  And then of bloody papists doth he bawl;
15   If he were king, he'd (damn them!) shoot them all.
  And then he quotes the Duke! and sagely thinks
  That princes should be loyal to the throne.
  And then he talks of privilege - and winks:
  Game he can't eat, he hints; but kills his own.
20   And then he calls the land a marrow bone,
  Which tradesmen suck; for he no longer trades,
  But talks of traffic with defensive sneer.
  Full deeply is he learn'd in modes and grades,
  And condescends to think my Lord his peer!
25   Yet, lo! he noddeth at the engineer -
  Grins at the fellow - grunts - and lounges on!

First published 1876

Stephen Van-Hagen

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