Who hath not longed, by converse fired or book,
To break him sudden from his own home-nook,
(There, in cramp nest, too long, like dormouse curled)
And speed from land to land, and scan the world?
But Time and Space stood ready to forbid
Or Niagara—or the Pyramid.
'Soon shall thy arm, Unconquer'd Steam! afar
Drag the slow barge and drive the rapid car.'
Some twice five lustres since, so sang the bard:
Bold was the prophecy; the credence hard.
The jeerer jeered; the thinker stood aloof
In pause; 'but now the time hath given it proof.'
Did Venus win from Vulcan, Mighty Power!
That thou shouldst strain a day within an hour?
And lend her thy twin spirits, Force and Speed,
To break down distance for some gentle need?
And did Minerva join Cythera's prayer?
Or bribe thee with some gift of science rare,
For her young sages, or of state or law,
Within vacation half a world to draw?
And (not as when, of old, men plodded slow
'To Pyrenean or the river Po')
Fling forth each acolyte, as suits him best,
To Moslem East, or Transatlantic West?
Then snatch the senator, o'er land and main,
Home to his voters and the house—again?
Or from his poetry and picturesque
Whirl back the future chancellor to his desk?
The fire-wheeled bark would part. Storm saith her 'Nay'
With blustering throat; yet lo! she bursts away.
In vain around her curl the landward seas;
In vain—to stop her—strains the landward breeze.
Not like you white winged loiterers, taken aback
By the fierce blast, and foiled of skilful tack;
At anchor tossing still, with close-reefed sail,
Sick of delay, yet bondsmen of the gale;
She, in mad surf tho' forced awhile to reel,
And heave and dive, from bowsprit down to keel,
Asserts, full soon, her self-selected course,
And conquers wind and wave by inner force.
And while swift smoke, as from volcano's mouth,
(Such Pliny saw) is hurried, north or south,
By the head wind; (the swiftlier driven back,
The more to show what power would thwart her track)
She, leaving coast and bay far, far, behind,
As all contemptuous of that bullying wind;
And fluttering round to unresisting spray
Each coming wave, that would contest her way;
Unoared, uncanvassed, marches on, until
Instinct almost she seems with human will.
Like some strong mind, that, shipped on fortune's bark,
Holds onward still, unflinching to the mark;
And loves, or so might seem, to breast and urge
Thro' life's worst seas, and scoffs at wind and surge.
But now her prow hath touched the foreign strand;
And harnessed, lo! the iron coursers stand.
Fire hoofed, with fuming nostril; us to bear,
Swift as swift arrow, thro' the whistling air.
We mount the car. And what our course may stay,
Strength—Victory—Companions of our way!
On—on we rush. A hundred leagues forecast,
And lo! a hundred leagues already past.
On—on we rush. A hundred pictures tost
On the quick eye—right—left—and yet not lost.
For as fast eagle, fastest when he flies,
Battle or prey, the things he loves, descries;
So the brief pictures We; as sudden caught
By rapid eye for yet more rapid thought.
And not alone shall glancing vision win
Each larger feature of the sweeping scene,
Wood, stream, or hill; but many a smaller charm,
Croft,—garden,—lowly roofs of village farm;
(Which from some causeway lowlier, lovelier seem;
Fond homes for fancy; landscape in a dream
With mowers beside their noon-side flagon gay;
And children, tumbling in the tedded hay.
Or—as for contrast—the slow-furrowing plough;
Or feeding kine, that (all accustomed, now)
On as we flash along the echoing ways,
Lift not their quiet heads; but calmly graze.
Tall ship! proud steed! let loftier poets dream;
I plod for thee, most unpoetic Steam!
Thou used, yet scorned! till thro' some chance we find
A poesy in man's all-conquering mind.