TECHNICAL NOTE: The great majority of the links below are to
scanned antique books at the Internet Archive, most of them
anthologies. Poems frequently run for several pages; when coming
to the apparent end of a poem, turn the page to make sure!
Back to Main Subject Index
The telegraph network was
the Nineteenth Century internet. Telegraph operators, called
"plugs", were young,
highly intelligent, generally lower-class, always ambitious. As they
drifted from station to station
along the lines in search of work, they developed an
irreverent "hacker" subculture, complete with its own
(usually humourous or sentimental, sometimes racy, and often containing
ethnic stereotypes, particularly of the Irish). Of course, there were also
telegraphy poems by outsiders as well.
who sent the first public message on
The Carnival of Oshkosh Parody of a Shakespearian tragedy.
Downey's Lament Song of an Irish technician.
Misplaced Affection About the (nowadays) well-known
problems which may arise in online relationships.
Out of Adjustment A brief romantic encounter between operators takes an
unfortunate turn, but all's well that ends well:
"You adjusted my relay, assuaging my tears // And I
in return have reciprocated."
En Rapport Male and female operators flirting from different continents.
The Song of the Plug Operators introduce the human factor that
frustrates the system designers: "Breaking on duplex and single strings too; //
On all kinds considered a 'bug'."
The Song of the Wire transmitting good and bad tidings alike.
By Telegraph Another meditation on the system's indifference to the
joyous or tragic nature of the information transmitted.
The Telegrapher's Song "Every point around the world // Right at our elbow lies."
Bailey, Philip James:
Pegasus, fleeter than telegram
This would be a fine comic maths poem, but unfortunately includes
a now-unacceptable rhyme for "figures".
The Feast of St. Martha Four characters debate the
pros and cons of technology. Includes the interesting lines
"The earth itself is now inspired // It knows delight, it feels
distress // Ten thousand wires and nerves unwired // Have given the
Dewart, Edward Hartley:
The Atlantic Cable Fairly straightforward.
Emerson, Ralph Waldo:
The Adirondacs: A Journal
Ten scholars (two of them naturalists collecting specimens) travel across
upstate New York as the news arrives of the Transatlantic Cable.
Hillyer, William Hurd:
Hillyer, William Hurd:
The Wind in the Wires
The Deep-Sea Cables
Accidentally Lovecraftean. There is an old musical
setting by the classical
composer Rutland Boughton, but we cannot find it online.
Maxwell, James Clerk:
Valentine by a Telegraph Clerk ♂ to a Telegraph Clerk ♀
Comic telegraphy poems were a genre, and this was a famous and much-read example. It was
probably the only Maxwell poem with a significant
readership in his lifetime.
Palgrave, William Gifford:
A Vision of Life, Book III, Canto X
"Those misled by Science: their doom is to dwell in a world such
as they planned."
Canto XI follows this with an attack on British technology,
"contrasted with the charm of
pure and unspoiled Nature". Canto XII condemns the railroad
and the telegraph (which
broke "the bonds wisely set between nations"). Cantos XIII and
XIV tell a sort of
Atlantis myth: a scientific utopia is destroyed by its own
Reid, James D.:
The Mystic Wire is in the Air One of the first and
most popular of the many poems about telegraphy, apparently
meant to be sung. Reid was a professional telegrapher; the
refrain ("Four thousand miles ...") is a "found poem", a line
in an advertising brochure that Reid noticed was accidentally in
The Atlantic Telegraph
"Long bind the Old World with the New !"
The Magnetic Telegraph
as a metaphor for Christian salvation.
Richards, William C.:
Electron a sort of epic poem about electricity.
Riley, James Whitcomb:
Christmas Along the Wires
Service, Robert W.:
The Telegraph Operator
Working on the edge of the world.
Turner, Rev. Charles Tennyson:
The Telegraph Cable to India ... binding together the
Empire, even the "lawless regions which we guard and subsidize".
On the Completion of the Pacific Telegraph
That it occurred during the Civil War is a good omen for the North.
The First Atlantic Telegraph
is part of God's plan.
The First Telegraph Message
"What hath God wrought?"
The Triumphs of Science and of Faith
If religion were as advanced as technology (in the age of the Transatlantic Cable), there would be no war.
Webber, James B.:
In Border Scots dialect.
A children's poem, but very similar to other telegraphy poems.
The Wires Are So Still and High
Can the birds hear the messages in the wires as they sit on them?
TECHNOLOGY: Other Communications
The Telephone The next wave of technology, described in mock-Irish dialect.
- Abbott, H. H.:
Black and White
"Gaunt poles with shrilling wires their weird did dree." Probably telephone poles, given the date.
- Davidson, John:
Closes and Courts and Lanes
An ode to Fleet Street, emphasising the hardware side of
the media world.
- Frankau, Gilbert:
Part of a longer war poem,
A Song of the Guns.
- MacKaye, Percy:
Phonograph, moving-picture camera, stock-ticker and so on are
valuable only if they point to some transcendent realm, or at least
not to evil. Fortunately, Edison has good intentions.
- Monroe, Harriet:
offers intimacy to parted friends.
- Sandburg, Carl:
About a telephone switchboard operator.
- Sandburg, Carl:
Under a Telephone Pole
- Service, Robert W.:
The Gramaphone at Fond-du-lac
- Stead, R. J. C.:
The Gramophone is a welcome companion out on the lonesome prairie ...
- Tabb, Fr. John Bannister:
A mocking-bird is a natural phonograph.
- Very, Jones:
The Telephone is marvelous!
- Wynne, Annette:
High and Mighty
To a telephone pole.