Monday, July 09, 2007

St Louis zinc smelting establishments

I can't resist including another piece from The Poet's Eye. Geoffrey Grigson includes the whole of Walt Whitman's 'Plate Glass Notes', a diary entry for November 1879, published in November Boughs. In the extract I've reproduced here, Whitman returns from the plate glass works where he had seen 'vast, rude halls, with immense play of shifting shade, and slow-moving currents of smoke and steam, and shafts of light, sometimes sun, striking in from above with effects that would have fill’d Michel Angelo with rapture'. These sights prepare him for another sublime scene when he arrives at St Louis: the zinc smelting establishments...
'Coming back to St. Louis this evening, at sundown, and for over an hour afterward, we follow’d the Mississippi, close by its western bank, giving me an ampler view of the river, and with effects a little different from any yet. In the eastern sky hung the planet Mars, just up, and of a very clear and vivid yellow. It was a soothing and pensive hour—the spread of the river off there in the half-light—the glints of the down-bound steamboats plodding along—and that yellow orb (apparently twice as large and significant as usual) above the Illinois shore. (All along, these nights, nothing can exceed the calm, fierce, golden, glistening domination of Mars over all the stars in the sky.)

As we came nearer St. Louis, the night having well set in, I saw some (to me) novel effects in the zinc smelting establishments, the tall chimneys belching flames at the top, while inside through the openings at the facades of the great tanks burst forth (in regular position) hundreds of fierce tufts of a peculiar blue (or green) flame, of a purity and intensity, like electric lights—illuminating not only the great buildings themselves, but far and near outside, like hues of the aurora borealis, only more vivid...'

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