Lord, Thou hast made this world below the shadow of a dream,
An', taught by time, I tak' it so -- exceptin' always Steam.
From coupler-flange to spindle-guide I see Thy Hand, O God --
Predestination in the stride o' yon connectin'-rod.
John Calvin might ha' forged the same -- enorrmous, certain, slow
Ay, wrought it in the furnace-flame -- my "Institutio".
I cannot get my sleep to-night; old bones are hard to please;
I'll stand the middle watch up here -- alone wi' God an' these
My engines, after ninety days o' race an' rack an' strain
Through all the seas of all Thy world, slam-bangin' home again.
Slam-bang too much -- they knock a wee -- the crosshead-gibs are
But thirty thousand mile o' sea has gied them fair excuse. . . .
Fine, clear an' dark -- a full-draught breeze, wi' Ushant out o'
An' Ferguson relievin' Hay. Old girl, ye'll walk to-night!
His wife's at Plymouth. . . . Seventy --
One -- Two -- Three since he began --
Three turns for Mistress Ferguson. . .and who's to blame the man?
There's none at any port for me, by drivin' fast or slow,
Since Elsie Campbell went to Thee, Lord, thirty years ago.
(The year the Sarah Sands was burned. Oh roads we used
Fra' Maryhill to Pollokshaws -- fra' Govan to Parkhead!)
Not but they're ceevil on the Board. Ye'll hear Sir Kenneth
"Good-morrn, M'Andrew! Back again? An' how's
your bilge to-day?"
Miscallin' technicalities but handin' me my chair
To drink Madeira wi' three Earls -- the auld Fleet Engineer,
That started as a boiler-whelp -- when steam and he were low.
I mind the time we used to serve a broken pipe wi' tow.
Ten pound was all the pressure then -- Eh! Eh! -- a man
An' here, our workin' gauges give one hunder fifty-five!
We're creepin' on wi' each new rig -- less weight an' larger power:
There'll be the loco-boiler next an' thirty knots an hour!
Thirty an' more. What I ha' seen since ocean-steam began
Leaves me no doot for the machine: but what about the
The man that counts, wi' all his runs, one million mile o' sea:
Four time the span from earth to moon. . . . How far,
O Lord, from Thee?
That wast beside him night an' day. Ye mind my first
It scoughed the skipper on his way to jock wi' the saloon.
Three feet were on the stokehold-floor -- just slappin' to an' fro
An' cast me on a furnace-door. I have the marks to show.
Marks! I ha' marks o' more than burns -- deep in my soul
An' times like this, when things go smooth, my wickudness comes
The sins o' four and forty years, all up an' down the seas,
Clack an' repeat like valves half-fed. . . . Forgie's
Nights when I'd come on deck to mark, wi' envy in my gaze,
The couples kittlin' in the dark between the funnel stays;
Years when I raked the ports wi' pride to fill my cup o' wrong --
Judge not, O Lord, my steps aside at Gay Street in Hong-Kong!
Blot out the wastrel hours of mine in sin when I abode --
Jane Harrigan's an' Number Nine, The Reddick an' Grant Road!
An' waur than all -- my crownin' sin -- rank blasphemy an' wild.
I was not four and twenty then -- Ye wadna judge a child?
I'd seen the Tropics first that run -- new fruit, new smells, new
How could I tell -- blind-fou wi' sun -- the Deil was lurkin' there?
By day like playhouse-scenes the shore slid past our sleepy eyes;
By night those soft, lasceevious stars leered from those velvet
In port (we used no cargo-steam) I'd daunder down the streets
An ijjit grinnin' in a dream -- for shells an' parrakeets,
An' walkin'-sticks o' carved bamboo an' blowfish stuffed an' dried
Fillin' my bunk wi' rubbishry the Chief put overside.
Till, off Sambawa Head, Ye mind, I heard a land-breeze ca',
Milk-warm wi' breath o' spice an' bloom: "M'Andrew, come
Firm, clear an' low -- no haste, no hate -- the ghostly whisper
Just statin' eevidential facts beyon' all argument:
"Your mither's God's a graspin' deil, the shadow o' yoursel',
Got out o' books by meenisters clean daft on Heaven an' Hell.
They mak' Him in the Broomielaw, o' Glasgie cold an' dirt,
A jealous, pridefu' fetich, lad, that's only strong to hurt,
Ye'll not go back to Him again an' kiss His red-hot rod,
But come wi' Us" (Now, who were They?) "an' know the Leevin' God,
That does not kipper souls for sport or break a life in jest,
But swells the ripenin' cocoanuts an' ripes the woman's breast."
An' there it stopped: cut off: no more; that
quiet, certain voice --
For me, six months o' twenty-four, to leave or take at choice.
'Twas on me like a thunderclap -- it racked me through an' through
Temptation past the show o' speech, unnameable an' new --
The Sin against the Holy Ghost? . . . An' under all,
That storm blew by but left behind her anchor-shiftin' swell,
Thou knowest all my heart an' mind, Thou knowest, Lord, I fell.
Third on the Mary Gloster then, and first that night in Hell!
Yet was Thy hand beneath my head, about my feet Thy care --
Fra' Deli clear to Torres Strait, the trial o' despair,
But when we touched the Barrier Reef Thy answer to my prayer!
We dared not run that sea by night but lay an' held our fire,
An' I was drowsin' on the hatch -- sick -- sick wi' doubt an' tire:
"Better the sight of eyes that see than wanderin' o' desire"
Ye mind that word? Clear as our gongs -- again, an' once again,
When rippin' down through coral-trash ran out our moorin'-chain;
An' by Thy Grace I had the Light to see my duty plain.
Light on the engine-room -- no more -- bright as our carbons burn.
I've lost it since a thousand times, but never past return.
Obsairve. Per annum we'll have here two thousand souls
Think not I dare to justify myself before the Lord,
But -- average fifteen hunder souls safe-borne fra' port to port
o' service to my kind. Ye wadna blame the thought?
Maybe they steam from grace to wrath -- to sin by folly led, --
It isna mine to judge their path -- their lives are on my head.
Mine at the last -- when all is done it all comes back to me,
The fault that leaves six thousand ton a log upon the sea.
We'll tak' one stretch -- three weeks an' odd by any road ye steer
Fra' Cape Town east to Wellington -- ye need an engineer.
Fail there -- ye've time to weld your shaft -- ay, eat it, ere ye're
Or make Kerguelen under sail -- three jiggers burned wi' smoke!
An' home again, the Rio run: it's no child's play to
Steamin' to bell for fourteen days o' snow an' floe an' blow --
The bergs like kelpie
s overside that girn an' turn an' shift
Whaur, grindin' like the Mills o' God, goes by the big South drift.
(Hail, snow an' ice that praise the Lord: I've met them
at their work,
An' wished we had anither route or they anither kirk
Yon's strain, hard strain, o' head an' hand, for though Thy Power
All skill to naught, Ye'll understand a man must think o' things.
Then, at the last, we'll get to port an' hoist their baggage clear
The passengers, wi' gloves an' canes -- an' this is what I'll hear:
"Well, thank ye for a pleasant voyage. The tender's comin'
While I go testin' follower-bolts an' watch the skipper bow.
They've words for every one but me -- shake hands wi' half the crew,
Except the dour Scots engineer, the man they never knew.
An' yet I like the wark for all we've dam' few pickin's here --
No pension, an' the most we earn's four hunder pound a year.
Better myself abroad? Maybe. I'd
starve than sail
Wi' such as call a snifter-rod ross
. . .French for nightingale.
Commeesion on my stores? Some do; but I can not afford
To lie like stewards wi' patty-pans --. I'm older than
A bonus on the coal I save? Ou ay, the Scots are close,
But when I grudge the strength Ye gave I'll grudge their food to
(There's bricks that I might recommend -- an' clink the fire-bars
No! Welsh -- Wangarti at the worst -- an' damn all patent
Inventions? Ye must stay in port to mak' a patent pay.
My Deeferential Valve-Gear taught me how that business lay,
I blame no chaps wi' clearer head for aught they make or sell.
found that I could not invent an' look to these -- as well.
So, wrestled wi' Apollyon -- Nah! -- fretted like a bairn --
But burned the workin'-plans last run wi' all I hoped to earn.
Ye know how hard an Idol dies, an' what that meant to me --
E'en tak' it for a sacrifice acceptable to Thee. . . .
Below there! Oiler! What's your wark? Ye
find it runnin' hard?
Ye needn't swill the cap wi' oil -- this isn't the Cunard!
Ye thought? Ye are not paid to think. Go,
sweat that off again!
Tck! Tck! It's deeficult to sweer nor tak'
The Name in vain!
Men, ay an' women, call me stern. Wi' these to oversee
Ye'll note I've little time to burn on social repartee.
The bairns see what their elders miss; they'll hunt me to an' fro,
Till for the sake of -- well, a kiss -- I tak' 'em down below.
That minds me of our Viscount loon -- Sir Kenneth's kin -- the chap
Wi' Russia leather tennis-shoon an' spar-decked yachtin'-cap.
I showed him round last week, o'er all -- an' at the last says he:
"Mister M'Andrew, don't you think steam spoils romance at sea?"
Damned ijjit! I'd been doon that morn to see what ailed
Manholin', on my back -- the cranks three inches off my nose.
Romance! Those first-class passengers they like it very
Printed an' bound in little books; but why don't poets tell?
I'm sick of all their quirks an' turns -- the loves an' doves they
Lord, send a man like Robbie Burns
to sing the Song o'
To match wi' Scotia's noblest speech yon orchestra sublime
Whaurto -- uplifted like the Just -- the tail-rods mark the time.
The crank-throws give the double-bass, the feed-pump sobs an' heaves,
An' now the main eccentrics start their quarrel on the sheaves:
Her time, her own appointed time, the rocking link-head bides,
Till -- hear that note? -- the rod's return
whings glimmerin' through the guides.
They're all awa'! True beat, full power, the clangin'
Clear to the tunnel where they sit, my purrin' dynamo
Interdependence absolute, foreseen, ordained, decreed,
To work, Ye'll note, at any tilt an' every rate o' speed.
Fra' skylight-lift to furnace-bars, backed, bolted, braced an' stayed,
An' singin' like the Mornin' Stars for joy that they are made;
While, out o' touch o' vanity, the sweatin' thrust-block says:
"Not unto us the praise, or man -- not unto us the praise!"
Now, a' together, hear them lift their lesson -- theirs an' mine:
"Law, Orrder, Duty an' Restraint, Obedience, Discipline!"
Mill, forge an' try-pit taught them that when roarin' they arose,
An' whiles I wonder if a soul was gied them wi' the blows.
Oh for a man to weld it then, in one trip-hammer strain,
Till even first-class passengers could tell the meanin' plain!
But no one cares except mysel' that serve an' understand
My seven thousand horse-power here.
Eh, Lord! They're grand -- they're grand!
Uplift am I? When first in store the new-made beasties
Were Ye cast down that breathed the Word declarin' all things good?
Not so! O' that warld-liftin' joy no after-fall could
Ye've left a glimmer still to cheer the Man -- the Arrtifex!
holds, in spite o' knock and scale, o' friction, waste an'
An' by that light -- now, mark my word -- we'll build the Perfect
I'll never last to judge her lines or take her curve -- not I.
But I ha' lived an' I ha' worked. 'Be thanks to Thee, Most High!
An' I ha' done what I ha' done -- judge Thou if ill or well --
Always Thy Grace preventin' me. . . .
the "Stand by" bell.
Pilot so soon? His flare it is. The mornin'-watch
Well, God be thanked, as I was sayin', I'm no Pelagian yet.
Now I'll tak' on. . . .
~'Morrn, Ferguson. Man, have ye ever
What your good leddy costs in coal? . . . I'll burn 'em
down to port.
Written in 1893, this poem is one of the first to enter the world of a man
whose life is dedicated to machines. Overtones of Calvinism and the doctrine
of predestination mix with the voice of a man that is getting old and who
lives balanced between his God and his Engines. The steam engines are the
object of his dedication; but this dedication is born out of a sense of duty.
M'Andrew's church is the engine room, and the concerns of the outside world
are of secondary interest when compared to steam, or rather Steam.
M'Andrew loves his machines, but since he is an old hand at this trade he has
already seen more than one generation of steam engines. These too will become
obsolete as the technology improves and the working pressure increases.
Interestingly, there is no trace of romantic sadness for this change in the
world; the machine will improve - the doubts are about the Man.
I have seen M'Andrew's attitude reflected in many people that work with
machines; I think that a deep relationship can be forged with the materials of
our daily work - indeed Work is Worship. And this is why I envy system
administrators, because they speak to the machines and the machines speak to
them. The engines must be kept running; the orchestra sublime sings a
tune that cannot be interrupted, lest the ship turns from a thing of speed and
determination to "a log upon the sea". I think that this is what we try to
write about in "the terrible beauty of an industrial landscape at dawn".
Some noders (Yurei, The Custodian, Roninspoon, I am sure I am forgetting
many) write about machines, even terrible machines. But M'Andrew is with them.
This is probably our best definition, as a civilization, as of now; we have
made the machines (the planes, the ships, the pulp mills, the nuclear power
stations), and now we are one with them.
M'Andrew places itself in a moral triangle formed of God, Engines and Man. I am o' service to my kind. Ye wadna blame the thought? is his justification. He defines his duty as getting safely those two thousands people per year to their destination; their activities are their concern.
Some clarifications could be useful:
- Three turns for Mistress Ferguson. . .and who's to blame the man?:
this refers to the rate of rotation of the screw, expressed in turns per
minute. M'Andrew notices that Ferguson is running the engine at 73 rpm,
instead of the 70 that (I guess would be customary). This means that the ship
will arrive earlier.
- In port (we used no cargo-steam) I'd daunder down the streets --: since the ship didn't use steam-powered cranes for loading and unloading cargo, the engines would be off in port and the engineer would be free.
- Commeesion on my stores?: I have a vague memory that every crew member had a right to carry on board a certain amount of cargo that belonged to him, but I cannot find a reference to this fact.