Anastasus Grün: “The Poetry of Steam”

Excerpt, “The Spirit of German Poetry: A Series of translations from the German Poets, with Critical and Biographical Notices. ”  Translated by Joseph Gostick. 1845.

train 1870s germany



I hear sad hymns and downcast faces see—

Our prophet-bards have had a boding dream,

A mournful vision of dear poetry

For ever banished from the earth—by steam!


What! had your crooked roads, then, such a grace,

That long, straight lines must grieve a Poet’s eye?

Is just five miles an hour the Poet’s pace?

And must not Pegasus attempt to fly?


Out with your coach, as in a happier day,

Harness again your gall’d and spavin’d team,

(But keep within the old ruts all the way)

And chase the goddess borne away by steam!


Or take a boat and row well (if you can)

After a steamer on the swelling sea,

And never murmur though the waterman

Can tell you nothing of your poetry.


Or man a ship and every random gust,

Sent from the wind-god catch within your rag,

As gladly as a beggar some stale crust

Takes with a bow and drops into his bag.


Or, if ’tis calm, ’twill quite poetic be

There, as if ice-bound, on a summer’s day;—

Perhaps a dolphin rising from the sea,

Of poetry may something have to say;


While I, along the vine-clad, rocky Rhine,

On a black swan, the steamer, proudly swim,

And, lifting up a cup of golden wine,

Sing loudly human art’s triumphal hymn;


And gladly celebrate the master-hand,

That seiz’d the fire-flame, like Prometheus old,

And, through the black shaft ‘mid the grassy land,

Dragg’d up the iron from Earth’s rocky hold;


And gave command to both—”ye shall not rest

Till striving man is from his bondage free;

Go, fire, and bear man’s burdens, east and west,

And, wheels of iron, on his errands flee!”


See how they go, with thunder, through the land—

Beneath the steam-clouds heavy masses flee;

So marches on an elephantine band,

With towers and battlements, to victory.


See, from his seat beneath the shady tree,

The village patriarch from his sleep arise,

And, throwing up his nightcap hastily,

Share in his grandsons’ rapture and surprise!


And, ‘mid some fears, he hopes for better days,

For which, in youth, he ventur’d in the fight—

“May this new power,” the village-patriarch prays,

“Establish Fatherland and freedom’s right!”