Transatlantic Cable 5 – The Senator’s Speech

Effect of the Submarine Cable by John Leech


Transatlantic Cable 5 – The Senator’s Speech

Does it seem, I say,
All but the most incredible
A slender copper wire is stretched
Across two thousand miles ?
Across the all-but-fathomless,
Where humans cannot penetrate,
There spans a thread across the sea
To link our distant isles.

Does it seem, I say,
All but a miracle of art
That thoughts of living men
In the cheerful light of day,
About the markets and the seasons,
And elections, and the wars,
And tender nothings from our lives,
Should manifest this way ?

Does it seem, I say,
All but the most remarkable
These thoughts should clothe themselves
In such an elemental spark,
And shoot with fiery speed
In a moment, in a twinkling,
From hemisphere to hemisphere,
Through vast abyssal dark ?

Does it seem, I say,
All but the work of genius
That through such nether oceans
Streams of thoughts should race and leap ?
Among the uncouth monsters,
Along the wreck-paved floor,
And throughout the oozy dungeons
Of the silent, rayless deep.



Transatlantic Cable 4 – The Visionary

Mertz #18 by John Morra


Transatlantic Cable 4 – The Visionary

The venture-prizer – that was the man
Who knew not a jot about the telegraph –
But don’t yet laugh, he had a plan.

In 1851, he knew a cable could be run
Beneath the Channel, shore-to-shore –
Because it had been done the year before.

More than likely, if not him,
Then someone else would chance their limb,
But it was he who seized the circumstance.

By 1865, his crazy dream had come alive,
With Yankee pluck (and maybe madness too) –
His luck ran good and bad, but he ran true.

Some say that history is just a few great men –
But then, what of the sailors and the bankers and the bureaucrats,
The cable-makers and the engineers and the diplomats ?

But nevertheless, perhaps it also takes the skill
Of a charismatic hope and an unshakable will –
This world is changed and made anew by those who do.

Someone needs to shout above the scrum,
To point out to the hum-a-drum
That this idea’s time has come.



Transatlantic Cable 3 – Slow News Days

A Seaport at Sunset by Claude Gellée

Transatlantic Cable 3 – Slow News Days

Once, the gossip only moved
As fast as anyone could walk,
Or gallop, if there were a need
To hurry-up the speed of talk.
The fastest was the pigeon post,
As long as messages were short.
But once the ocean vast was reached,
Then all those means would count for naught.

Despite the wings, despite the hooves,
Despite the engineers,
We’ve not advanced the speed of news
These past two thousand years.

So letters, treaties, plans and news
Must make their way together
As slowly, slowly, boat by boat,
They risk the waves and weather.
The urgent and the leisurely
Arrive still side by side,
Yet over land we’d have them there
As fast as we can ride.

Despite the ships, despite the crews,
Despite the steam and gears,
We’ve not advanced the speed of news
These past two thousand years.

Transatlantic Cable 2 – Emigrants’ Song

ellis island
Liberty Island from Ellis Island by Sandra Nardone


Transatlantic Cable 2 – Emigrants’ Song

Dear Dad,
There’s just so much I have to tell you,
Just so much that I have seen…
…Dear Sis,
I hope you’re keeping well,
I’m keeping fit and fed and clean…
…My darling Anne,
Oh how I miss you still,
I hope your married life is good…
…My best mate Dan,
And all the lads a’t’mill,
Is there someone else where I once stood ?…
…Dear Mum…
…Mijn lieve Klara…
….A Seán, a chara…
…Take these words, they’re all we got,
They’ll cross the sea as we cannot…
…Cari saluti…
…Bester grus…
…Todo mi amor…
…Mit einem Kuss…



Transatlantic Cable 1 – The Wake

Jane & The Prisoner of Woolhouse by Kinuko Craft


Transatlantic Cable 1 – The Wake

The sea is wide, my son, so wide,
And the wind is free, so free –
The sea is long to the other side,
And the currents strong on the Westward tide.
Don’t tarry here because I cried –
Your boat is at the quay.

The land is big, I hear, so big,
The boat is small, is she –
But you must leave aboard this brig,
To seek out better roots to dig.
I know you won’t return, my sprig –
You won’t return to me.




Happy Birthday – 2nd draft

Tomorrow is this daily poetry adventure’s second anniversary, and have I got a treat for you !

Several years ago, a friend of mine was devising a piece of amateur theatre which I stage-managed, based around the laying of the first ocean-spanning telegraph cable in 1858.  His work was pretty experimental, but he had wanted it to be a musical of sorts and there were a couple of songs in it.  All of which got me thinking about writing a sequence of lyrics around the topic, a sort of soundtrack album to a film that never got made.

I should mention that that first cable failed after only three weeks and had to be replaced in 1866, but don’t look to these poems for too much historical detail.  There’s some, but it’s not a documentary.  And anyway, it’s dramatically more satisfying to imagine it as a single event with a false dawn and speedy follow-up.

So, starting tomorrow and continuing over the subsequent twelve days I present to you the The Transatlantic Cable !