Tuesday, September 13, 2005

'Thought-winged and shod with fire'

As I mentioned a few days ago, I'm doing an essay on the telegraph and American social thought. Then, I was excited about telegraph sheet music, and today it's telegraph poetry. I spent another fantastic few hours on the American Memory website yesterday, and came away with a few absolutely incredible poems dedicated to the wonder of the telegraph. I've typed one out below which originally appeared in The Atlantic Monthly in 1858. No-one will probably read all the way to the end, but I strongly recommend it: any poem that describes telegraph wires as a 'mystic cord' or 'swift shuttle of the Lord' deserves a read, I think!

I've been finding it hard to truly comprehend what people must have thought when they first saw a telegraph demonstrated: seeing a message that could have originated thousands of miles away. It's like trying to imagine riding on a steam engine for the first time - so frighteningly new, so fast. I read poems like this, and the first thought is always "stupid people, it's only the telegraph for pete's sake". But then you realise how utterly foreign the whole thing would have been, and then describing a telegraph message as a 'strong pulse of thunder' doesn't seem so silly after all. But onto the poem...

Thou lonely Bay of Trinity,
Ye bosky shores untrod,
Lean, breathless, to the white-lipped sea
And hear the voice of God!

From world to world His couriers fly,
Thought-winged and shod with fire;
The angel of his stormy sky
Rides down the sunken wire.

What saith the herald of the Lord?-
"The world's long strife is done!
Close wedded by that mystic cord,
Her continents are one.

"And one in heart, as one in blood,
Shall all her peoples be;
The hands of human brotherhood
Shall clasp beneath the sea.

"Through Orient seas, o'er Afric's plain,
And Asian mountains borne,
The vigor of the Northern brain
Shall nerve the world outworn.

"From clime to clime, from shore to shore,
Shall thrill the magic thread;
The new Prometheus steals once more
The fire that wakes the dead!

"Earth gray with age shall hear the strain
Which o'er her childhood rolled;
For her the morning stars again
Shall sing their song of old.

"For, lo! the fall of Ocean's wall,
Space mocked, and Time outrun!-
And round the world, the thought of all
Is as the thought of one!"

Oh reverently and thankfully
The mighty wonder own!
The deaf can bear, the blind may see,
The work is God's alone.

Throb on, strong pulse of thunder! beat
From answering beach to beach!
Fuse nations in thy kindly heat,
And melt the chains of each!

Wild terror of the sky above,
Glide tamed and dumb below!
Bear gently, Ocean's carrier-dove,
Thy errands to and fro!

Weave on, swift shuttle of the Lord,
Beneath the deep so far,
The bridal robe of Earth's accord,
The funeral shroud of war!

The poles unite, the zones agree,
The tongues of striving cease;
As on the Sea of Galilee,
The Christ is whispering, "Peace!"

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