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Lay for the Day
20th August

1913: a commercially useful form of stainless steel is cast for the first time in Sheffield, a further twist in the life of a metal – iron – that humanity has been working for about 25 centuries.
From the book of Praises:

44. Of Iron

Heart of our blood, the blood of our world,
we move in invisible weather
the unstill core makes, heavy with it.
The compass needles shake and steady,
the pole like the point of a dancer
turning her slow pirouette, starlight
flowing on the upraised hands and arms.

When the Plough is hungry, Brother Axe
provides, and where the forest’s fallen
often the slit poppy’s sap rusts there
in the sun, and Sister Needle seeks
a vein, while Uncle Shovel’s making
sure that Johnny Motor gets his way;
but Baby Gun is the blue-eyed boy.

Iron, you have magnetised our will,
since no metal equals our mettle
so nearly, unyielding chancellor
to whom we give, bent to our bidding,
dominion, to cleave wood, water, stone,
earth, flesh. Tell me, in my own empire,
am I not the blade and you the hand?

Take this hammer. Its head is heavy
for the loss of John Henry, the man
whose muscle and skill matched the steam-drill.
Beat the steel of the thieving systems
into pruning hooks, for lopping off
unfruitful branches and barren vines.
Feed them to the fire to forge more tools.

The atom’s innocent and the blade
of the murder lies smooth and smiling,
blameless as a baby, though suckled
on blood. It was late in our childhood
we found the strength to reach down and twist
the apples of ore off the lodestone
branches, who are not fit yet for force.

John Gibbens
from Collected Poems

The Lay Reader: an archive of the poetic calendar

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