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The Song of Steel -- Charles Buxton Going

(Poem #1720) The Song of Steel
 Yea, art thou lord, O Man, since Tubal Cain
 Brought me into being, white and torn with pain--
 Wrung me, in fierce, hot agony of birth,
 Writhing from out of the womb of mother earth.

 Art thou, then, king, and did I make thee lord,
 Clothe thee in mail and gird thee with the sword,
 Give thee the plough, the ax, the whirring wheel--
 To every subtle craft its tools of steel?

 Look! We have slain the forests, thou and I--
 Soiled the bright streams and murked the very sky;
 Crushed the glad hills and shocked the quiet stars
 With roaring factories and clanging cars!

 Thou builder of machines, who dost not see!
 That which thou mad'st to drive, is driving thee--
 Ravening, tireless, pitiless its strain
 For thy last ounce of work from hand and brain.

 Are thy sons princes? Hard-wrung serfs! They give
 Toil's utmost dregs for the bare chance to live;
 They dig and delve and strive with sweat-cursed brow
 In forge and shop. Master? Nay! Thrall art thou!

 Fool! Serving, I have slaved thee. Master Fool!
 To forge the sword, nor know the sword should rule;
 To make the engine, blind that it must lead
 Fast and yet faster on the race of greed.

 I, Steel, am King--thy king in more than name!
 Lo, I am Moloch, crowned and throned in flame,
 Holding thee slave by lust of thy desire--
 Calling thy first-born to me through the fire!
-- Charles Buxton Going
  Tubal-Cain, or Tubalcain, (Tuval Kayin in Hebrew), is a figure in the
  Book of Genesis, who functions as a culture hero who is credited with
  the invention of blacksmithing and ironworking. His name means "thou
  wilt be brought of Cain", suggesting he is a descendant of Cain.

I really enjoyed discovering today's poem, all the more so since it is a
style of poetry that has fallen out of fashion. The trouble with grand,
dramatic poems like this is that they are all too easy to get wrong, and one
slip can leave them ridiculous rather than stirring. Indeed, one of the
easiest targets to parody in deliberate bad poetry is the misuse of lines
like "Lo, I am Moloch, crowned and throned in flame" in a poem in which they
are clearly inappropriate.

Which makes it all the more a pleasure to see a poem that gets it right,
one in which the overly intense tone and imagery are precisely right for
what the poet wishes to convey. This is not a subtle poem, but it doesn't
need to be - Going clearly wants to deliver a Message, and he does so
unapologetically. And the interesting thing is, despite the poem's slightly
dated feel, the subject matter is as relevant as ever.


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