At The India Docks. A Memory Of August, 1883

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Old 08-Oct-2010
At The India Docks. A Memory Of August, 1883

I stood in the ghastly gleaming night by the swollen, sullen flow
Of the dreadful river that rolls her tides through the City of Wealth and Woe;
And mine eyes were heavy with sleepless hours, and dry with desperate grief,
And my brain was throbbing and aching, and mine anguish had no relief.
For never a moment - no; not one - through all the dreary day,
And thro' all the weary night forlorn, would the pitiless pulses stay
Of the thundering great Machinery that such insistence had,
As it crushed out human hearts and souls, that it slowly drove me mad.

And there, in the dank and foetid mist, as I, silent and tearless, stood,
And the river's exhalations, sweating forth their muddy blood,
Breathed full on my face and poisoned me, like the slow, putrescent drain
That carries away from the shambles the refuse of flesh and brain -
There rose up slowly before me, in the dome of the city's light,
A vast and shadowy Substance, with shafts and wheels of might,
Tremendous, ruthless, fatal; and I knew the visible shape
Of that thundering great Machinery from which there was no escape.

It stood there high in the heavens, fronting the face of God,
And the spray it sprinkled had blasted the green and flowery sod
All round where, through stony precincts, its Cyclopean pillars fell
To its adamantine foundations that were fixed in the womb of hell.
And the birds that, wild and whirling, and moth-like, flew to its glare
Were struck by the flying wheel-spokes, and maimed and murdered there;
And the dust that swept about its black panoply overhead,
And the din of it seemed to shatter and scatter the sheeted dead.

But mine eyes were fixed on the people that sought this horrible den,
And they mounted in thronged battalions, children and women and men,
Right out from the low horizons, more far than the eye could see,
From the north and the south and the east and the west, they came perpetually -
Some silent, some raving, some sobbing, some laughing, some cursing, some crying,
Some alone, some with others, some struggling, some dragging the dead and the dying
Up to the central Wheel enormous with its wild devouring breath
That winnowed the livid smoke-clouds and the sickening fume of death.

Then suddenly, as I watched it all, a keen wind blew amain,
And the air grew clearer and purer, and I could see it plain -
How under the central Wheel a black stone Altar stood,
And a great, gold Idol upon it was gleaming like fiery blood.
And there, in front of the Altar, was a huge, round lurid Pit,
And the thronged battalions were marching to the yawning mouth of it
In the clangour of the Machinery and the Wheel's devouring breath
That winnowed the livid smoke-clouds and the sickening fume of death.

And once again as I gazed there, and the keen wind still blew on,
I saw the shape of the Idol like a king turned carrion,
Yet crowned and more terrific thus for his human fleshly loss,
And with one clenched hand he brandished a lash, and the other held up a cross!
And all around the Altar were seated, joyous and free,
In garments richly-coloured and choice, a goodly company,
Eating and drinking and wantoning, like gods that scorned to know
Of the thundering great Machinery and the crowds and the Pit below.

Ah, Christ! the sights and the sounds there that every hour befell
Would wring the heart of the devils spinning ropes of sand in hell,
But not the insolent Revellers in their old lascivious ease -
Children hollow-eyed, starving, consumed alive with disease;
Boys and men tortured to fiends and branded with shuddering fire;
Girls and women shrieking caught, and whored, and trampled to death in the mire;
Babyhood, youth, and manhood and womanhood that might have been,
Kneaded, a bloody pulp, to feed the gold-grinding murderous Machine!

And still, with aching eyeballs, I stared at that hateful sight,
At the long dense lines of the people and the shafts and wheels of might,
When slowly, slowly emerging, I saw a great Globe rise,
Blood-red on the dim horizon, and it swam up into the skies.
But whether indeed it were the sun or the moon, I could not say,
For I knew not now in my watching if it were night or day.
But when that Great Globe steadied above the central Wheel,
The thronged battalions wavered and paused, and an awful silence fell.

Then (I know not how, but so it was) in a moment the flash of an eye -
A murmur ran and rose to a voice, and the voice to a terrible cry:
"Enough, enough! It has had enough! We will march no more till we drop
In the furnace Pit. Give us food! Give us rest! Though the accursed Machinery stop!"
And then, with a shout of angry fear, the Revellers sprang to their feet,
And the call was for cannon and cavalry, for rifle and bayonet.
And one rose up, a leader of them, lifting a threatening rod.
And "Stop the Machinery!" he yelled, "you might as well stop God!"

But the terrible thunder-cry replied: "If this indeed must be,
It is YOU should be cast to the furnace Pit to feed the Machine - not WE!"
And the central Wheel enormous slowed down in groaning plight,
And all the aerial movement ceased of the shafts and wheels of might,
And a superhuman clamour leaped madly to where overhead
The great Globe swung in the gathering gloom, portentous, huge, blood-red!
But my brain whirled round and my blinded eyes no more could see or know,
Till I struggling seemed to awake at last by the swollen, sullen flow
Of the dreadful river that rolls her tides through the City of Wealth and Woe!

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