Inhuman rhythms: working-class railway poets and the measure of industry

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In 1878, Alexander Anderson, or “Surfaceman,” produced the collection that cemented his reputation as one of Victorian Britain’s leading working-class poets, Songs of the Rail (1878). Five years later, inspired by Anderson’s example, another Scottish poet, William Aitken, a railway inspector in Glasgow, produced his own volume of railway poems, Lays of the Line (1883). Both volumes are remarkable for their emphasis on horrific accidents, on human flesh and blood “Tossed among the ruthless wagons, / Mangled by the gory wheel” (“William Morton,” Aitken 82). Eleven out of thirty-four poems in Songs of the Rail involve accident or death, while Lays of the Line was explicitly written, Aitken notes in his preface, to show that “of all other occupations either on land or sea, that of the ordinary railway employee is by far the most hazardous”
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)35-39
Number of pages4
JournalVictorian Review
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • poetry
  • Victorian
  • railways
  • industrialism


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