Corliss Engine

The hours, in a long plunge,
Swirl unconquering
Against this motion clear in steel.
Body of an older birth, like rock
That stands against a sea, this motion breaks
Time’s lesser flow. And here is raised
A symbol of the flight in emptiness
That bears the world and our own selves;
Before such clarity the days fall back; the very days
That drown our lives at last, fall spent
Before the deeper might that builds our blood.


This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on December 3, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“Corliss Engine” appears in The Dial, vol. 83, no. 4 (October 1927). In “The Technological Fallacy in Contemporary Poetry: Hart Crane and MacKnight Black,” published in American Literature, vol. 21, no. 1 (March 1949), Frederick J. Hoffman, distinguished professor of English at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, writes, “With his friend Lawrence Braymer, [MacKnight] Black studied machinery with fascinated attention, though he knew nothing about its complicated inner mechanisms and was impressed solely by its sleek, efficient lines and its quiet, effortless work. Black chose machinery as the subject of his poetry because of its simplicity as well as because it seemed free of the complications of human lives. [. . .] Black isolated the machine from both its economic and its cultural contexts, enjoyed it, and described it as a single poetic object.”