The Telegraph Office

by Neal McEwen, K5RW

Telegraphic Poetry

Three 19th Century Poems

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These three poems came from the book, "Autographs and Memoirs of the Telegraph" by Jeff Hayes, 1916. The first chapter is "Poetry of the Telegraph", by Donald McNicol. McNicol is best know for his excellent telegraph engineering text, "American Telegraphic Practice", of the early 20th century. He started as a young telegrapher in the 1870s. I guess all of us, even the technically inclined, have some sort of creative side. It is interesting to note that Walter Phillips, of Phillips code fame, has a short piece of this book also. He was also very creative and used the pen name John Oakum. Poetry seems to have been rather popular in the Telegraph journals of the 1870s and 80s, states McNicol, but gave way to more technical articles until a resurgence about 1910.

Here is a short poem penned at the very dawn of telegraphy.

No title, 1848 by Pennsylvania preacher

Along the smooth and slender wires, the sleepless heralds run,
Fast as the clear and living rays go streaming from the sun;
No pearls of flashes, heard or seen, their wondrous flight betray,
And yet their words are quickly caught in cities far away.



Many, many poems were written in celebration of the laying of the Atlantic Cable. Here is one McNicol liked.

How Cyrus Laid the Cable, by John. G. Saxe

Come listen all unto my song;
It is no silly fable;
'Tis all about the mighty cord
They call the Atlantic Cable.
Twice did his bravest efforts fail,
And yet his mind was stable,
He wasn't the man to beak his heart
Because he broke his cable.
And may we honor ever more
The manly, bold, and stable,
And tell our sons, to make them brave,
How Cyrus laid the cable.



This poems is by James Clerk Maxwell, the renowned 19th century physicist. Note the references to the Daniel, Smee and Grove batteries and the Weber and Farad too! Note this poem predates his greatest work, Maxwell's equations, by 15 years. Perhaps Maxwell's creativity crossed between poetry and prose to electrophysics.

The Telegraphers Valentine, by J.C. Maxwell, 1860

The tendrils of my soul are twined
With thine, though many a mile apart.
And thine in close coiled circuits wind
Around the needle of my heart.
Constant as Daniel, strong as Grove.
Ebullient throughout its depths like Smee,
My heart puts forth its tide of love,
And all its circuits close in thee.
O tell me, when along the line
From my full heart the message flows,
What currents are induced in thine?
One click from thee will end my woes.
Through many a volt the weber flew,
And clicked this answer back to me;
I am thy farad staunch and true,
Charged to a volt with love for thee

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Neal McEwen,