“The Scotch Engineer,” Sacrifice Set During The Boer War
This narrative poem by Paterson celebrates courage and sacrifice through the tragic tale of a Scottish railway engineer who heroically delivers troops to battle.
Paterson establishes an ominous mood early, with vivid imagery of the stoic engineer Hector Clark scanning the darkness ahead for threats as he drives the armored train. The rhythm and repetition of “peer…peer…peer” underscores his intense focus.
When warned the enemy holds the line ahead, Clark’s determination swells. Paterson masterfully builds suspense as the train rushes onwards despite the extreme danger.
His dramatic monologue voiced by Clark highlights courage accepting likely doom to support his comrades. Paterson movingly depicts Clark’s rationale that abandoning the Scottish fighters would be a deeper disgrace than sacrificing himself.
The breakneck journey is grippingly evoked through sights, sounds and motion – the landscape racing past, bullets whining, the engine hurtling through enemy fire. Vivid light imagery marks the climax as Clark realizes they’ve broken through but cannot stop in time.
Paterson concludes ‘The Scotch Engineer‘ with somber admiration, emphasizing Clark’s gallant sacrifice to aid his fellow Scots. Though a civilian, the engineer gave his life for a heroic cause. Paterson imbues his death with honor, underscoring how ordinary people can achieve greatness when tested.
The Scotch Engineer
With eyes that searched in the dark,
Peering along the line,
Stood the grim Scotchsman, Hector Clark,
Driver of “Forty-nine”.
And the veldt-fire flamed on the hills ahead,
Like a blood-red beacon sign.
There was word of a fight to the north,
And a column too hardly pressed,
So they started the Highlanders forth,
Heedless of food or rest.
But the pipers gaily played,
Chanting their fierce delight,
And the armoured carriages rocked and swayed,
Laden with men of the Scotch Brigade,
Hurrying up to the fight,
And the grim, grey Highland engineer
Driving them into the night.
Then a signal light glowed red,
And a picket came to the track.
“Enemy holding the line ahead;
Three of our mates we have left for dead,
Only we two got back.”
And far to the north through the still night air,
They heard the rifles crack.
And the boom of a gun rang out,
Like the sound of a deep appeal,
And the picket stood in doubt
By the side of the driving-wheel.
But the engineer looked down,
With his hand on the starting-bar,
“Ride ye back to the town,
Ye know what my orders are,
Maybe they’re wanting the Scotch Brigade
Up on those hills afar.
“I am no soldier at all,
Only an engineer;
But I could not bear that the folk should say
Over in Scotland—Glasgow way—
That Hector Clark stayed here
With the Scotch Brigade till the foe was gone,
With ever a rail to run her on.
Ready behind! Stand clear!
“Fireman, get you gone
Into the armoured train—
I will drive her alone;
One more trip—and perhaps the last—
With a well-raked fire and an open blast;
Hark to the rifles again!”
On through the choking dark,
Never a lamp nor a light,
Never an engine spark,
Showing her hurried flight.
Over the lonely plain
Rushed the great armoured train,
Hurrying up to the fight.
Then with her living freight
On to the foe she came,
And the rifles snapped their hate,
And the darkness spouted flame.
Over the roar of the fray
The hungry bullets whined,
As she dashed through the foe that lay
Loading and firing blind,
Till the glare of the furnace, burning clear,
Showed them the form of the engineer,
Sharply and well defined.
Through! They are safely through!
Hark to the column’s cheer!
Surely the driver knew
He was to halt her here;
But he took no heed of the signals red,
And the fireman found, when he climbed ahead,
There on the floor of his engine—dead—
Lay the Scotch Engineer!