Engine Fight-Talk

I said (and I always say these things with the same voice)
" Say it with locomotives! Mark well that animal puff!"
Each man-jack of them marked it, every man-jack — all were boys.
" If you must, say it with locofocos! Radical Tammany stuff!
Hot and heavy! As if you meant it! Don't stick at a rough house — real rough!"

But at " radical", magical vocable, claps crashed forth of stunning applause,
Though rattle-proof, that straightway shattered my heavily pillared doors!

" Say it" said I " with half-machines!" And then, sublimely hoarse
With horrid pleasure they said it, with puff-puffs — roars upon roars
The place was soon congested as with a fog of escaping steam.
I gazed in through it at the team-work proudly, of my loud responsive team.

" Well that's enough" at last I said. " You've put your backs into that all right.
You said it with locomotives honies! That will do I guess for tonight."

And I sketched them the Flying Scot — proudest and bravest of trains —
In bold chalk outlines bodily, with black alphabet of smoke.
And I drew beside it the World, with grey chalk for where it rains,
And for where it's hottest, red. I looked up. Nobody spoke.

" Among machines, " the hearty " !" (I always explained things thus —
The human touch — makes wild cats kins). " Not exactly one of us !
Still half a horse!" They saw it at once — not quite yet it of course.

" Instincts to graze, gallop, cavort!" They nodded. " The full machine
Not yet — too close to flesh and blood — that's in fact really all I mean!"
They hurled their class-books at each other's heads, there were roars upon earsplitting roars.

" I said " Man's friend! " " with unction — duly I curled the lip.
" Overnight that eclipsed the horse — into a sad has-been
Threw down the camel — shipwrecked that " desert-ship " !
Put out of business all the craftsmen who grew fat on the classic scene.
In the motherland, shrivelled stooks and stubble. And as if that were not enough,
This novelty of compressed steam, did it not call the bluff
Of all the dark " Medicines " of those peoples under a god —
Nay with its puffing has it not got us all we have got!"

Tapping my mouth, in the same unbending tone,
I said (my voice is never raised the jot of a note above
The merest conversational half-drone),
" What comes out of our Backs now goes to stuff
Our Fronts — as things are ." And I took a pinch of snuff,
Just to make clear that habits that were Swift's
Were good enough for me. " The smoke-screen lifts —
That put up by our natural conceit —
Showing us where we stand — if innocent of feet
We can be said to stand. Why yes it's somewhat rough
On you and me — Lord Byron, Pope, and Plato —
To find this life not worth even the proverbial potato!"

A stifled titter at this punctured the ponderous air
In the bodywork as it were (to be shoppy) of this most model class —
By me lately invented. — Slowly across my chest
I drew my strong serge walls, in the manner of bold Jack Tars.

" All in this bitch of an epoch is for Backness" again I said.
" Up Backness for countersign! Hark you, that identical voodoo stuff
Of Backness goes to compose even the marxist mahomet —
Of that false colossus — of all work and no circuses and bread
Erected in contradiction to the cant of the cult of Love.
Up Cant of Reason — bow the knee! Long live the dogmatic dove!"

They found this a little difficult. " False colossus" was very bad.
I could see them biting their fingernails behind the breastworks of their cribs
I did not speak for a minute. I knew they must take for a cad
A man who was brutal to Marx, or at best to be regarded as mad.
So I had to win back their confidence. I did it with sundry fibs,
And looks of bursting conceit. At his ease at once each small lad
Rewreathed his smiles, asked to leave the room, or went back to his fish and chips.

Having stood two or three on the form, and having stood four or five in the corner
I took up my teaching again, avoiding the role of suborner.

I said (and I never make these remarks in aught but the haughtiest voice)
" Attend to all that begins with a busy smoke and noise;
There was never smoke where fire was not; no, I have never seen
A worth-while something begin in quiet." The class was as keen as keen
To hear more of this — they tightened their ear drums. But I had other views.
So I turned up my notes on magic, engineering, Irish stews.

But poetry came out first. So I said in my usual tones
" Let us consider next how far the Past is our pigeon!
Should we really drive our ploughshare without compunction across its bones,
(If we have a ploughshare) or should we leave it (if we can ) in its proper region?"
And every man-jack of my little chorus shouted,
Either no or yes or merely oh ! — no byelaw of the classroom but was flouted.

I stood a dozen on the form, and told a dozen to stay behind,
Stuck six or eight in the corner — told the rest to jolly well mind!
I put birches in pickle publicly in view of the thunderstruck class.
I turned my back in a tantrum — but ambushed two more in the glass!
" I should like to know," I said — the same voice as before —
" How it comes that Shakespeare caught the silhouette of Caesar.
I should like to know the reason why R. Browning's such a bore
In his doggerel novelettes, such a long-winded sort of geezer.
I should like to have you tell me why Browne's Urn
Makes all the Past with firework colours burn —
Why Taliesin steps in Peacock, I should be very glad to learn,
Or why the lungs of Guinevar swell with coarse breath again.

I would give my passport to find out what whore
Has come to live with Swinburne — I would fain
Find out what page the sorcerer John Keats tore
From the shut book — and how even Beckford came to wake
A litter of earthquaking spooks to make the walls of Lisbon shake.
Can you call up the consciousness that the sleepy Pater used
To wake the Middleages — with what senses was it fused?
For that matter explain to me how the pages of Cathay
Came out of the time-bound Ezra into the light of common day!"

Well all the boys were pleased. " What is the volume, sir,
In Portuguese?" I smiled. This was young Percy Burke.
He put up a plea for synthesis: " The Past's a jolly blur.
I like things sharp, like the light in Boston. I'm afraid that I demur.
Surely this rummaging in the medieval murk,
This pandering to the mighty vagueness of our hearts,
Oblique attacks with midnight's moon fraudulently to frill
The escapades of the Menads, haunting those bloody parts,
Is not, never can be, quite what Poetry sets out to instil!"

I found several cherubs to back this involved assertion
I then said: " What I meant, my friends, to make trebly clear
Was the extraordinary cleverness that resides in a reversion
To the sweetmeats of the ages, the bon-bons that are Fancy's bread.
And if you can once tap that old sugared harvest, and make men hear
In a sage's shell the picnicking of the distant, hungry dead,
You have them perfectly frenzied; they forget fashion: they are too amazed to fear."

After this there was a long silence. You heard nothing but boys biting their nails.
Burke had a maudlin squint as he looked sideways at the dresser
" When you said shut books in connection with Keats." — But most flattened their tails
Beneath their buttocks: thinking, no doubt, on such wild ground the less said the besser!
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