Address to the Automaton Chess Player

Jan 29, 2009, 1:47 PM |

Hannah Flagg Gould was born in Lancaster, Mass. on September 3, 1789 and died on September 5, 1865 in Newburyport, Mass., where she lived most of her life - a quiet life spent caring for her father. Although she had been writing poetry since childhood, she only gained recognition in her thirties when she began contributing to magazines and journals. Her works were cherished by her friends and admirers who published a collection of her poems under the title Poems in 1832.  This popular collection was reprinted three times by 1836 alone(below is from an 1839 edition). Gould's works covered a myriad of subjects, from children to nature to the historical and reflected their author's own simplicity and sincerity.



Address to the Automaton Chess Player     
by Hannah Flagg Gould     
Poems. 1839.  pp. 87-9     


Of deep research and cogitation,
Of many a head and many a nation,
         While all in vain
Have tried their wits to answer whether,
In silver, gold, steel, silk or leather,
Of human parts, or all together,
         Consists thy brain!

When first I viewed thine awful face,
Rising above that ample case
Which gives thy cloven foot a place,
         Thy double shoe,
I marvelled whether I had seen
Old Nick himself, or a machine,
Or something fixed midway between
         The distant two!

A sudden shuddering seized my frame:
With feeling that defies a name,
Of wonder, horror, doubt and shame
         The tout ensemble,
I deemed thee formed with power and will;
My hair rose up-my bloodstood still,
And curdled with a fearful chill,
         Which made me tremble.

I thought if, e'en within thy glove,
Thy cold and fleshless hand should move
To rest on me, the touch should prove
         Far worse than death;
That I should be transformed, and see
Thousands and thousands gaze on me,
A living, moving thing, like thee,
         Devoid of breath

When busy, curious, learned and wise
Regard thee with inquiring eyes
To find wherein the mystery lies,
         On thy stiff neck,
Turning thy head with grave precision,
Their optic light and mental vision
Alike defying, with decision,
         Thou giv'st them "check!"

Some say a little man resides
Between thy narrow, bony sides
And round the world within thee rides;
         Absurd the notion!
For what's the human thing would lurk
In thine unfeeling breast, Sir Turk,
Performing thus, thine inward work,
         And outward motion?

Some whisper that thou art he, who fell
From Heaven's high courts, down, down, to dwell
In that place of sulphury smell
         And lurid flame.
Thy keeper then deserves a pension,
For seeking out this wise invention
To hold thee harmless, in detention,
         Close at thy game.

Now, though all Europe has confessed,
That in thy master Maelzel's breast
Hidden, thy secret still must rest,
         Yet it were great pity,
With all our intellectual light
That none should view thy nature right, --
But thou must leave in fog and night
         Our keen-eyed city.

The just confide in me, and show
Or tell, how things within thee go!
Speak in my ear so quick and low
         None else shall know it.
But, mark me! If I should discover
Without thine aid, thy secret mover.
With thee for ever all is over,
         I'll quickly blow it!