Sunday, 10 January 2010

Rudyard Kipling, *The Moon Miners*

[Excerpted here are lines 10-69; this is the passage immediately before the miners unearth the mysterious artefact buried deep beneath Copernicus crater. The text is taken from Smithee's edition. Kipling's *Moon Miners* antedates *2001: A Space Odyssey* by half a century.]

We worked, digging down slant and delving deep from Copernicus’ crater
And each of us working a ten hour day, and grinding his Excavator.
Our suits’ remote commanding the drills, tunnelling lasers and Chutes
Six foot men are small as dwarves besides those mechanical brutes—
Moon miners, paid to tunnel, the regolith over us all;
The only sounds our helmeted breath, the world coloured black and pall.
The cavern as wide as Vitruvian Man’s stretched fingertips might just touch;
Each morning meeting the frozen rock, each evening leaving it dust.
And the days on the moon are a fortnight long and are hotter than boiled lead
And the nights are exactly as long again and cold as the thoughts of the dead.
And the dust is fine as sea-beach sand, where breakers turn onto their side—
But the moon’s an oceanless beach, and parched, and rockfall’s the only tide;
Pebbles and rocks and meteors that come crashing out of blank sky
And millennia come between each splash, and that surf is deathly dry.
Hurtling down, smashing and crashing, and milling rough rock into dust
An anvil of land and myriad hammers, and so the topography’s crushed.
Soundlessness, vacuum, eerie and dark, confusion of far and near:
The miner toils in his cell spurred on by ‘we’re building a city here!’
Die-cut shadows dance in the blackness thrown by the welder’s spark;
There are twenty types of moonrock, lads, but a thousand types of dark—
A thousand kinds of darkness there, and the cold comes on up through your boots:
The lunar hilltops are bleak; for sure; but it's bleaker by far at their roots.

We’d dug the main chamber, and sealed the sides with Palmact agent and Glue
And we’d paved the floor with laze-planed stones, and fitted these flags to the true.
And the echoless cavern reared eerily over us, arc-lit, hooped and tall
Shadows seemed made of elastic, and stretched, flitted and slid on the wall.
Our suits were black as pure charcoal up from the boots to the helmets’ peaks;
A thing you'll know about moondust, perhaps, is just how vile it reeks:
It stinks with the taint of sulphur, of a gunpowder fashioned in hell,
And you never quite rid yourself of it, clean, though you scrub down ever so well.
So we eat and we sleep; and ready ourselves, and its back sublunar again—
Though it’s hard and ill-paid and dangerous too, yet we’re Lune women and men.
And so we dug on, and the Vaters moved, jabbed blades, with dig and sweep,
On earth they’d have clanked, hissed and grumbled; but here all was quiet as sleep.
We drove three new tunnels, went downward slow, and aimed for the moon’s still heart…
But we found what we never thought to find, and it clattered our world apart.

We’re Lune, and we’re proud of that fact, though our suits bear House sigils now—
This is our world, and if you want digging we’re the ones who know how.
We’ll take the Merchant House’s money, let them supply new kit
But ours are the hands, and the minds and the lives we take down into the pit.
Ours are the lives: the pit is a deadly-dangerous workplace, and deep;
You need not think us your slaves, you Housers, though you have bought us cheap.
A human who’s gone in the moon and crawled through the grave-holes there
Is indifferent to threats as to money—for miners are hard to scare.
But scared I was, for all my vaunting, by what my Vater dug through
And my heart near stopped, and my breathing froze and my monitor light burned blue.

1 comment:

Rosalyn Buckland said...


Do you know what poem this is from? I'm looking for the whole thing and can't find it on the internet anywhere!