The Bridge of the Hundred Spans (Poem by Gilbert Parker)

Suggested Poem

The Bridge of the Hundred Spans
By Gilbert Parker


It was the time that the Long Divide
Blooms and glows like an hour-old bride;
It was the days when the cattle come
Back from their winter wand’rings home;
Time when the Kicking Horse shows its teeth,
Snarls and foams with a demon’s breath;
When the sun with a million levers lifts
Abodes of snow from the rocky rifts;
When the line-man’s eyes, like the lynx’s, scans
The lofty Bridge of the Hundred Spans.

Round a curve, down a sharp incline,
If the red-eyed lantern made no sign,
Swept the train, and upon the bridge
That binds a canon from ridge to ridge.
Never a watchman like old Carew;
Knew his duty, and did it, too;
Good at scouting when scouting paid,
Saved a post from an Indian raid — 
Trapper, miner, and mountain guide,
Less one arm in a lumber slide;
Walked the line like a panther’s guard,
Like a maverick penned in a branding-yard.
“Right as rain,” said the engineers,
“With the old man working his eyes and ears.”
 
“Safe with Carew on the mountain wall,”
 Was how they put it, in Montreal.
Right and safe was it East and West
Till a demon rose on the mountain crest,
And drove at its shoulders angry spears,
That it rose from its sleep of a thousand years,
That its heaving breast broke free the cords
Of imprisoned snow as with flaming swords;
And, like a star from its frozen height,
An avalanche leaped one spring-tide night;
Leaped with a power not God’s or man’s
To smite the Bridge of the Hundred Spans.

It smote a score of the spans; it slew
With its icy squadrons old Carew.
Asleep he lay in his snow-bound grave,
While the train drew on that he could not save;
It would drop, doom-deep, through the trap of death,
From the light above, to the dark beneath;
And town and village both far and near
Would mourn the tragedy ended here.

One more hap in a hapless world,
One more wreck where the tide is swirled,
One more heap in a waste of sand,
One more clasp of a palsied hand,
One more cry to a soundless Word,
One more flight of a wingless bird;
The ceaseless falling, the countless groan,
The waft of a leaf and the fall of a stone;
Ever the cry that a Hand will save,
Ever the end in a fast-closed grave;
Ever and ever the useless prayer,
Beating the walls of a mute despair.
Doom, all doom — nay then, not all doom!
Rises a hope from the fast-closed tomb.
Write not “Lost,” with its grinding bans,
On life, or the Bridge of the Hundred Spans.

See, on the canon’s western ridge,
There stands a girl!  She beholds the bridge
Smitten and broken; she sees the need
For a warning swift, and a daring deed.
See then the act of a simple girl;
Learn from it, thinker, and priest, and churl.
See her, the lantern between her teeth,
Crossing the quivering trap of death.
Hand over hand on a swaying rail,
Sharp in her ears and her heart the wail
Of a hundred lives; and she has no fear
Save that her prayer be not granted her.
Cold is the snow on the rail, and chill
The wind that comes from the frozen hill.
Her hair blows free and her eyes are full
Of the look that makes Heaven merciful — 
Merciful, ah! quick, shut your eyes,
Lest you wish to see how a brave girl dies!
Dies — not yet; for her firm hands clasped
The solid bridge, as the breach out-gasped,
And the rail that had held her downward swept,
Where old Carew in his snow-grave slept.

Now up and over the steep incline,
She speeds with the red light for a sign;
She hears the cry of the coming train,
it trembles like lanceheads through her brain;
And round the curve, with a foot as fleet
As a sinner’s that flees from the Judgment-seat,
She flies; and the signal swings, and then
She knows no more; but the enginemen
Lifted her, bore her, where women brought
The flush to her cheek, and with kisses caught
The warm breath back to her pallid lips,
The life from lives that were near eclipse;
Blessed her, and praised her, and begged her name
That all of their kindred should know her fame;
Should tell how a girl from a cattle-ranche
That night defeated an avalanche.
Where is the wonder the engineer
Of the train she saved, in half a year
Had wooed her and won her?  And here they are
For their homeward trip in a parlour car!
Which goes to show that Old Nature’s plans
Were wrecked with the Bridge of the Hundred Spans.

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