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 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. . .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 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, 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 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, O 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, 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 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 Sambawa Head, Ye mind, I heard a land-breeze ca',
Milk-warm wi' breath o' spice an' bloom: "M'Andrew, 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 -- i
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