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, 0 God--
Predestination in the stride o` yon connectin`-rod.
John Calvin might ha` forged the same--enorrmous, certain, slow--
Ay, wrought it in the fumace-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 loose;
But thirty thousand mile o` sea has gied them fair excuse....
Fine, clear an` dark--a full-draught breeze, wi` Ushant out o` sight,
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.... an` 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 to tread,
Fra` Maryhill to Pollokshaws--fra` Govan to Parkhead!)
Not but they`re ceevil on the Board. Ye`ll hear Sir Kenneth say:
"Good morrn, McAndrews! Back again? An` how`s your bilge today?"
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 wad drive;
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 man?
The man that counts, wi` all his runs, one million mile o` sea:
Four time the span from earth to moon.... How far, 0 Lord, from Thee?
That wast beside him night an` day. Ye mind my first typhoon?
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` black,
An` times like this, when things go smooth, my wickudness comes back.
The sins o` four and forty years, all up an` down the seas,
Clack an` repeat like valves half-fed.... Forgie`s our trespasses.
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, 0 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 air--
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 skies,
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 Sumbawa Head, Ye mind, I heard a landbreeze ca`
Milk-warm wi` breath o` spice an` bloom: "McAndrews, come awa`!"
Firm, clear an` low--no haste, no hate--the ghostly whisper went,
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, unnamable an` new--
The Sin against the Holy Ghost?... An` under all, our screw.
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 na run that sea by night but lay an` held our fire,
An` I was drowzin` 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--clear as our carbons burn.
I`ve lost it since a thousand times, but never past return.