Bob Cruikshanks

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THIS is what Bob Cruikshanks said,
With a doubtful shake of the head,
And an oily hand that began to feel
Round the fringes of his beard so red,
As he leant against the driving-wheel.

"In the roar of the engine upon the rail,
Which I dimly feel
Underneath my heel,
Lurks the music of that which I always fail
To put into fitting words, though I hear
The great song humming within my ear.

"It begins when I start, and it follows on,
It mingles and finds
A home in the winds,
Who catch and toy with its rough, wild tone.
It never ceases, for when we come
To a stand it sinks to a softer hum.

"And often when roaring and rushing along
I can fancy I see
That wild melody
Resting on every spot like a throng
Of tiny spirits that sing and shake
With joy at the things that men will make.

"When I lean myself over the side to watch
The cranks, I know
That somewhere below
In the network of rods there is one to catch
The music they make, which he sings again
To the monster who lets me hold the rein.

"I hear it wild and weird as we skim
Along the bridge,
Or close by the edge
Of some chasm whose jaws open rugged and grim,
As if to swallow the engine, if he
Should prove false to the touch of the rail or me.

"It roars in the tunnel, it gleams in the night,
And with wild desire
From the furnace fire
Leaps sudden and swift with the column of light
That shoots to the clouds in its frenzy to win
Fresh food for the flame that is seething within.

"It whirls with the smoke; it takes up to the air
In the whistle that speaks
Its stern watchword, and shrieks,
As if half given over at times to despair;
Nay, it even twines itself round the wheel
Till the mighty rim staggers and seems to feel.

"It waves from the mist looming up like a wall
On each side as we peer
To catch signals at clear;
It flares from the head-light that swims like a ball
Of wan, dim light, or the eye of a ghost,
With its shadowy form in the darkness lost.

"Is it the wailing spirit of steam
Still following on,
With a wild, drear moan,
Its mighty first-born? or a voice from the dream
Of the things that will be when the years display
The wild results which we shape to-day?

"It is something like this which I fancy I hear
In the roar of the wheel
Underneath my heel,
As we dash through space in our wild career;
But to put it into words, you see,
Is the thing just now which is puzzling me."

That was what Bob Cruikshanks said,
With an oily hand that still would feel
Round the fringes of his beard so red,
While the other felt for a pipe which he
Lit, with a shake of his head at me,
As he leant against the driving-wheel.

 

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