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The Chainmaker's Ballad

By Ruth Calder Murphy (Arciemme)

Almost all my poems have some kind of story behind them, and this one's no exception. I come from Dudley, in what's known as "The Black Country". It's known as The Black Country because it was right at the heart of Britain's Industrial Revolution (c.1700-1850) and during that time, the huge increase of carbon fuels (coal, wood etc) to drive machinery made not only the air, but everything else sooty-black.

When I was a child - and more recently, too - I used to go quite often to The Black Country Museum. It was one of my favourite places to visit and, out of all the places in the museum, the two I loved best were the canal trip and the chainmaker.

If you're ever in the British West Midlands, I'd recommend you go for a visit there!

The bellows boom, the fire roars,

and in its burning breath,

great beads of sweat fall from my brow

and steam an instant death.

My hammer falls and falls again,

a steady, certain beat

that moulds the iron to my will,

a demon in Hell's heat.

A sudden steaming, sizzling gasp,

red metal fading fast

beneath the cooling water where

the fire breathes its last.

And so my links are made, and made

through each and every day

until I wish the dust and smoke

and heat would go away.

But snaking chains will wrap me round

until I breathe my last,

the hiss and roar will stay with me

until my life is past

And in my sleep of death, no doubt,

such dreams as there might be

will roar and boom and hiss and beat

especially for me.

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