A Poem of Progress

Commissioned for the 125th Anniversary of Luscar Coal Company

To the children of Lanark, growing in summer warmth,
The slag heaps were known as bings:
Places of wonder, fairy built; gentle hills
Constructed for childish pleasures.

They were green­clad and climbable,
Gently contoured, warm in the sun,
Hospitable in summer months;
Ignored amid winter’s wetness.

But each child knew that underneath
The lushness of the springy, dark­green grass
The bings were black; ­­ coal black.


To the old men of Lanark, dozing in summer warmth
The slag heaps were known as bings:
Places of memories; symbols of what had been;
Constructed of years of labour.

They were man made; hand built;
Shaped out of refuse torn from the living earth,
Black as the darkness deep beneath the ground;
Fashioned of toil and sweat.

But each old miner knew that underneath
The muttered curses for a life spent down the pit
There lay pride; ­­ coal pride.

And yet few who looked at the verdant, growing skin
Shielding the slag heaps’ blackness, dark as night,
Saw any cycle finish or begin.
Few were the eyes that saw beyond their sight;
Fewer the minds that grasped the wheel’s slow spin;

For the sky­high wheels that held whole towns in sway
When the black slag heaps were growing to their prime
Reversed time’s cycle in the strangest way,
Bringing old forests, rich from another time,
To blaze like a new born bride in the light of day .


To the miners of Luscar, sweating at the deep coal face,
Headstones to effort; testaments to toil;
Constructed of their workings.

They were thrown into sunlight,
Bathed and washed down by sweet, pure, gentle rain;
Taking up open space in the world above
To leave room for the men below.

But each Luscar miner knew that underneath,
Down there where he chipped and hacked in his narrow space,
There was power for a growing need; ­­ coal power.


To the aesthetes, posturing proud in the public eye,
The slag heaps were known as sins:
Troublesome eyesores; ugly piles of dirt
Marring the landscape’s beauty.

Affronts to artistic temperament, they stood
Stark, squat; obscene reminders of the lust for power,
Spoiling the idyll of the leisured class
That never had to scrabble in the ground.

But each aesthete knew that underneath
The moral revulsion felt in his outraged soul
The need was still there ­­ for coal.

And so the great search was started for compromise
A way to allow each group to achieve its goal;
The one to preserve the land and the way it lies,
The other to persevere in the quest for coal,
And the term Reclamation contained, for each one, the prize.

So Luscar today can look out and about with pride
At the places its mines and its men and its workings have been,
And perceive nothing ugly, no festering sores to hide;
No scars, no convulsions, no blemishes black, obscene:
But parkland, and pastures, and croplands rolling and wide.



To the tourists, passing Luscar in summer warmth,
The slag heaps have no name:
They are unthought of; they do not exist.
Coal mines are wonders, in and of themselves;

Things of efficient beauty, they live their now brief lives
Healthily, quietly, giving offence to none,
And signals of reclamation are obvious,
Living beside the works.

Nor does each tourist know that underneath,
When the soil is back in place and the trees take root,
The stone that contained the black of night
And the light of day will be gone,
Leaving forests to grow ­­ coal green?