The Dance of the Cornish AirCategories Articles0 Comments
“Branded with folly and madness for attempting what the world calls impossibilities. This has been my reward from the public, but should this be all, I should be satisfied by the great secret pleasure and laudable pride that I feel in my own breast from having been the instrument of bringing forward new principles and new arrangements of boundless value to my country, and however much I may be straitened in pecuniary circumstances, the great honour of being a useful subject can never be taken from me, which far exceeds riches.” Richard Trevithick
The Dance of the Cornish Air – ZOOM0620
A poet came by train to Camborne. He stepped down
Beside the blackened bricks of Holman’s foundry walls
To the crossing of Bassett and Trevenson,
Where, ‘proud to have brought forward new principles’,
Dick Trevithick, Engineer, stands to conduct his revolution.
Ah Dick! The instrument! What hymn swells your heart?
What battle-cry of revolution declares your honour?
Camborne hustles about, ticking over. This great square,
Which you and Passmore should, in granite, command
With education and innovation, is loud with fumes,
Thick with noise, men buzz in metal pods, ants
About an unqueened nest.
O Dick! Dick Trevithick! Do you take “great secret pleasure”
At this, your revolution?
The wheels go around!
Dick, mad boy with whipping stick
Smacks his hoop.
Entranced by speed,
Unmoved by subtleties of balance,
Un-seduced by control of direction –
Possessed! He beats the toy;
Breaks it, reforms it,
Makes ten of it from one,
Then a hundred of ten,
By the effort required to keep
All his great arrangements in spin.
Folly and madness!
Look where your revolution’s brought us!
Double glazing down Centenary Street!
Did you, with Holman and Harvey and cousin-banker Vivian,
Beneath the watchful gaze of Davies Gilbert,
With the cries of hungry children in your ears,
Sit in houses of Bassett and Pendarves to conceive
A greater good to arise from your machines?
Or, boys being boys,
And within the men they become remaining boys,
Were you driven by the steam of enthusiasm
To explore the means,
The potential of ingenuity,
To extract the deepest ore of your imagination?
O Dick? How should we thank you for this revolution?
Your voice explodes like a kettle drum
Across the traffic-hum plains of Dolcoath.
From your granite plinth you explain
“Arrangements of boundless value”
As lightning strikes at Cook’s Kitchen.
It’s silent now at Marriot’s and Pascoe’s.
At Taylor’s cash registers ring
Which echo stoping picks on hard rock.
Robinson’s got its roof on. South Crofty,
By the will of God alone (and with the usual sacrifice)
The last living hole, worked till the sweat
Gathered below and began to rise – South Crofty,
silent and dark; silent and dark – opens its eyes!
The Great Flat Lode is outworked.
The deepest chambers of Dolcoath flooded and hollow.
The ruins of Holman’s and Harvey’s Hayle
Hang like Shaman’s ghosts, reminiscent of Calvary –
There are only dark, mournful skies –
And grave-robbers now –
In East Pool & Agar and South Condurrow.
O Dick! So Quick, your revolution!
So thick the air, not with the cordite
of Guevara bravura; No!
Monoxide. Ozone. Sulphur.
Noxious incenses to enrich your wake,
To cloud your posthumous glory,
To shrivel this branded place for our yet-born children!
Dick Trevithick. Engineer.
Attemptor of Impossibilities.
Who set the pursuit of easy gold from dull lead aside
To blend elements – fire and water –
To unleash the true purveyor of boundless riches – Power!
Mover of things. Dick Trevithick –
Moved the farmer into factory; Dick Trevithick –
Moved the miner by train and ship to top and bottom
Of the Worlds known and unknown; Dick Trevithick
Moved his World on its axis; shifted balances
Of life and air – as the master of any flywheel should –
Into positions more logical….if less sustaining!
Dick Trevithick galloped from mine to mine;
Cast, re-cast and cast aside;
Bellowed orders in Founders’ Yards;
Abandoned Jane, abandoned hope, abandoned Peru
And returned; Dick Trevithick came home!
Tasted the whetted steel of revolution….
Revolution for revolution’s sake, South American style!
Now, in reputation, greatly honoured,
Addresses Camborne’s posterity from a podium
Erected by grateful townsmen and fellows,
In sight of his railway, amidst his town.
His people, good Cornish people, blink in light revealed
By his lifted shadow from across the sun.
How lightly we walk lightly over hollow moors;
How gently cap such ancient shafts.
O How we cast among the stones of Atlantic shores
And roll in collusion with the tides,
How cast about for a voice, a Mermaid’s echo,
To clarify that we are what we know we are;
That we are that which others, jealous, deny we are,
And that we are still the flame of Trevithick’s revolution.
Though that revolution is done,
Only its exhausts float deathly on the air,
Still there is work to be done,
To turn this battle-place back to the field;
To press predators’ souls to communion with the wind,
To embrace sparkling flesh of granite.
Dick! Your revolution’s done!
Your deeds and inventions fill old Passmore’s shelves,
They are behind you, once, for all.
Come now, Dick – Dick Trevithick –
Engineer – Inventor – Adventurer – Cornishman –
Join us, your People, take up the old language,
Walk free amongst the kaleidoscope of Peoples,
And pick up again the rhythm and steps of our dance –
The Dance of the Cornish Air.
1995 (revised 2000 & 2015)
 Passmore Edwards, 19th century Cornish philanthropist – built libraries and other institutions across Cornwall, including Camborne.
 Founders of Camborne and Hayle respectively.
 The 19th century technocrat who convinced the Government to invest in technological development.
 Prominent ‘Adventurers’ of Camborne
(Photo Steve Tanner)
Vyager gans Geryow (Bert Biscoe) lives in Truro. He is a poet and songwriter whose work draws on his interest in history, politics, social justice and language. He represents the people of Boscawen Division on Cornwall Council. The Division was formerly called ‘Moresk’ – an unbroken link from civic administration to the hurried escape of Tristan and Iseult from the vengeful wrath of King Mark – Bert tries to invest Cornish values into the demand of modern life. His work is fun, and best read aloud – which he does whenever the opportunity arises, especially with fellow Cornish poet, Pol Hodge. ‘Living in Trurra’ he says. ‘Means that there is a constancy of running water beneath your feet – there are two clocks which ring the hours dissonantly and out of step – a good environment for poems to flourish in the cracks and shadows. Nowadays, the mullet listen attentively in the lee of the Old Bridge’.