A Song Of Progress

Come away from pick and shovel for another day again,
Glide along the veins of iron leading to the city's heart,
Walk its streets and rub a shoulder with my wondrous fellow-men,
Then come back and stand with firmer foot in labour's toiling mart.


Thus I thought as ever onward, through the golden summer day,
Went the engine, all his pathway ringing answers to his tread,
Heard him shriek at every steady arm of red that cross'd his way,
His great nineteenth century watch-cry for the world to move ahead.


Ah! what toil in dark and daylight, aching brain and weary eye,
Waiting for the magic thought to burst its cycled chrysalis,
Till at last, like some Messiah, Science brings her hand-maids nigh,
And we stand on stairs of centuries with a mighty thing like this!


He, our wild familiar, tamed to rush where'er we point or speak,
Turning, where his footsteps wander, earth into one mighty mart;
Looming in the midst of traffic, as from out the ranks of Greek
Tower'd the elephant, that terror sent to every Roman's heart.


Lo! at last the toiling city, where the foremost ranks of life
Rush and strive in ceaseless struggle, ebbing but to come again;
And my heart leaps up within me, palpitating for the strife,
In the maelstrom of swart traffic, in the toil and shock of men.


Here is life on either hand that might disturb each idle god—
Drowsy-brain'd, with golden nectar bubbling from Hebean cup:
Life, as if some mighty giant had beneath these streets abode,
And was stretching every muscle in his frenzy to burst up.


Shame on all the later devil's whisper, crying in our ear—
'We are apes of broader forehead, with the miracle of speech;'
Rather nineteenth century men, that have a thought Who sent us here:
Higher faiths are ours, my fellows, low enough for us to reach.


What though I, your feeble helpmate, stand among you all unknown?
Yet each pulse within me, as a hand laid on responsive strings,
Vibrates to each new-shaped purpose rising up within your own,
Ringing forth excelsior pæans for the onward march of things.


Everywhere to bound the vision, the miraculous faith of toil
Rears, as worship, mighty monsters with their hundred arms flung loose;
Miles of vessels throbbing in their haste to fling a liquid coil
Of commerce round the nations kneeling with their proffer'd use.


What a seven-leagued stride from Adam, and the languor of the East,
To this century lapping round us, like a mad and hungry sea,
To the chainless brain that, like the geni, from the dark released,
Fills the earth with triumphs, earnest of the greater yet to be.


Heavens! how the unseen multitudinous coils of serpent thought
Draw this earth within their clasp, till, as upon the father's face,
Where the Deity of pain grew, as the throbbing sculptor wrought,
So her rugged features lighten, lying in their firm embrace.


But I wander from the city. Let me turn again to find
In the waves of human faces rolling past on either side
Links that, strong as bands of iron, draw me onward to my kind,
Till their fellowship shoots through me with electric thrills of pride.


For in them is the sure seed from which the ages yet to be,
Rising up with great broad sickle, shall reap all its golden grain;
Then the kindlier thought and nobler use of manhood shall be free,
And be brighter from the struggle such a sunny height to gain.


This we may not see; yet, brothers, it were something grand to die
But to hear a shout ring upward, through the death-mists thick and vast,
Loud as when a thousand people join their voice in one long cry,
That the world's great fight for brotherhood had clutch'd the palm at last.


It will come: I hear its promise ringing on from street to street
(Shame if we could play for ever at the game of Hoodman-blind):
I can see it; other mark than Cain's upon each brow I meet;
And the engine's whistle shrieks it as the city sinks behind.


Back to honest pick and shovel, and to daily task again—
Back with nobler thoughts within me, all the higher aims to cheer;
Better, too, in having rubb'd a shoulder with my fellow-men,
And the thinking that I help them at my lowly labour here.

by Alexander Anderson

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