Water and flame to agreement came,
And a solemn league they swore,
To work such speed and to do such deed
As never was done before;
To be friends to Time, to be foes to space,
To mingle their rival powers,
And at giants' pace, in a giant's race,
To be slaves to us and ours.
The sign is made, the word is said,
And the boiler coughs and hoots,
And taught to go at the first right slow,
The long line onward shoots;
Till with valves that rattle quick, and with steam that volumes thick,
And with buffers each from other far apart,
While the sleepers quake below, and the wheels like lightning go,
Through the tunnel and the bridge we dart.
Through the chalk-built hill, by the busy mill,
By the stream where the waters splash,
Through the Kentish hops, through the Sussex copse,
O'er the breezy heath we dash:
Where the small birds sing, where the sweet bells ring,
Where the earliest flowers are plucked,
We thunder away the livelong day
O'er embankment and viaduct.
There's a hill before, yet we give not o'er,
But with double speed we fly,
And we make no pause at the tunnel's jaws,
Though we enter with doleful cry:
Both the darkness and rocks our engine mocks,
And mountains are tamed by skill;
Though they fought right hard for their own at Box,
And harder at Clayton Hill.
The hour will be past if we pause at last,
So faster, if faster may be;
The clouds that fly through the summer sky
Are not so swift as we;
There's a whir in the trees when we pass like the breeze,
As if all we had done were too slow,
And for breath we must gasp, and the tender-rails we clasp,
As a mile in a minute we go.
We may hear the bell of our coming tell
A long long league away;
And the pleasant field to the town must yield,
Ere we end our toil to-day;
For life and for limb one thought to Him
Of thankfulness we give,
Who guides us aright, in our whirlwind flight,
When we could not go wrong and live!