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Poem: "An Amazing Carriage of Amber and Jade" - The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
Poem: "An Amazing Carriage of Amber and Jade"

This poem came out of the June 5, 2012 Poetry Fishbowl.  It was inspired by prompts from marina_bonomi and wyld_dandelyon.  It belongs to The Steamsmith series, and you can read more about that on the Serial Poetry page.  Among the things I researched for this poem were amber, ambergris, cigar boxesjade, and the jade furnace.

This microfunded poem is being posted one verse at a time, as donations come in to cover them. The Steamsmith rate is $1/line, so $5 will reveal 5 new lines, and so forth. There is a permanent donation button on my profile page, or you can contact me for other arrangements. You can also ask me about the number of lines per verse, if you want to fund a certain number of verses.  So far sponsors include: marina_bonomi, janetmiles, Anthony Barrette, Shirley Barrette, general fund

141 lines, Buy It Now = $141
Amount donated = $88
Verses posted = 15 of 24

Amount remaining to fund fully = $55
Amount needed to fund next verse = $2
Amount needed to fund the verse after that = $8

An Amazing Carriage of Amber and Jade

Maryam found herself fascinated
by the respective qualities of amber and jade.

The lore of alchemy held that
amber was a sort of guardian spirit for Europe,
mined in the German Confederation
and washed up on shores from Norway to Russia.

In alchemy, the yellow stone was called jantar, (1)
useful in gathering and storing
either electrical or solar energy.
Then there was its odd partner anbar, (2)
commonly called ambergris, from the bowels of whales,
useful for making all manner of alchemical spirits.
Their chemical structure inclined them to work together.

Conversely, jade was considered
to be the guardian spirit for Asia,
mined near the Yangtze and Yarkand rivers
and, more recently, in Burma.

In alchemy, the green stone was called yu, (3)
useful in stabilizing or maintaining processes,
making everything go smoothly.
Then there was the famous jade furnace,
an Asian equivalent of the Arabic athanor
that allowed precise temperature control.

The two types of amber interacted
as efficiently as a rocking-beam engine;
and if that was a rocking-beam engine,
then jade was a millwheel,
solid and even in every motion.

The challenge, Maryam discovered, lay in
convincing amber and jade to work together.
They got along about as well
as Great Britain and China,
which was to say,
when one of them worked
the other one would not
or if they both worked at the same time
they tended to tear everything apart between them.

Maryam had studied the discoveries
of historic alchemists from the West and the East.
It helped that she understood the major languages
such as Greek and Latin and Arabic.
She was not yet fluent in Chinese
but was determined to learn it.

She reviewed the schematics
for the Amber Sunroom
and the Jade Dragon Engine
(both of which worked but were ridiculously expensive).
She examined the plans
for the Mechanical Jamberee
(which did not work at all)
and the Grand Amber and Jade Apparatus
(which worked for five minutes before blowing up Berlin).

Then she noticed that most of the models
were quite small, which kept the components
in close proximity to each other --
likely an effect of their expense.

The sole exception was
the Grand Amber and Jade Apparatus --
but most of that consisted of precious metal settings
surrounded by practical metal gears,
with the core components crammed into a housing
not much larger than a cigar box.

So Maryam began experimenting with things
that could be used to harness the energies
of amber and jade while keeping them
separated by a discreet and reasonable distance
so as to form a reliable engine.

First she discovered that amber stayed the most stable
when contained in resinous woods such as pine,
while jade responded best when bounded by bamboo.

Then she figured out the interactions of the metals.
Jade would only run smoothly
with the base metals of lead or tin,
since they all had single atoms of the elements.

Amber would only behave with gold or silver,
since the precious metals both had doubled atoms of aether, (4)
and it was also necessary to match
the doubled pyra  of jantar  with that of gold (5)
and the doubled hudor  of anbar  with that of silver. (6)

In between went gears and beams
of copper and iron,
and gauges measured by mercury,
the practical metals mediating
between the base and the precious metals
with their doubled atoms of aether 
but singular
rhizomata. (7)

By this point Maryam had developed 
a good working theory of the
alchemical interface between amber and jade,
complete with proofs for the individual rules.
What she did not have was a complete working device,
and nobody would care much for her theories
without a spectacular demonstration
all clad in gears and gauges and glittering displays.

So Maryam wrote to her friends
in various far-flung places and promised them
contributor credit and copies of her notes
if they would help her to obtain materials.
From the Baltic Sea she got
slabs of pressed amber and nuggets of natural amber.
From the Indies she got chunks of ambergris.
From China she got blocks of fine green jade.

She spent weeks tooling all the parts and assembling
an Amazing Carriage of Amber and Jade.
It bore a riding box of pale golden pine
with seats cushioned in green velvet.
The top of the box held panels of jantar 
to gather the powerful rays of the sun

and the ambient electricity from the air,
framed by tubes full of anbar. 
The engine block carved from a piece of
rested on the front in a lattice of bamboo.

Everything was connected by splendid array
of machinery comprising all seven exalted metals
gleaming and whirring dramatically,
complete with a copperplate listing on the door
that featured all the participating alchemists.
The Carriage progressed upon its four wheels
with perfectly smooth motion, even over
London's notorious cobblestone streets.

It made an impressive presentation
before the Steamsmith Guild,
backed by Maryam's elegant proofs
about the interactions of supporting materials
to mediate between amber and jade.

It was a professional coup,
but alas, hopeless on the commercial side
due to the costly materials --
and Maryam, having solved the puzzle
of East meeting West in an engine,
grew bored with the whole endeavor
and wanted to work on something new.

So Maryam drove to Buckingham Palace
and delivered the Amazing Carriage of Amber and Jade
to Queen Victoria as a slightly early birthday present.
A visibly impressed chauffer took charge of it
(and its handwritten instruction manual)
to place in the royal carriage house.

When the Carriage reappeared
in the birthday parade at the end of May,
Maryam declared the project a resounding success.

* * *

In the alchemical lore of nether-Earth, a majority of terms come from Greek.  However, materials first discovered or heavily developed in other lands may retain their names from different languages, as is true for several things featured in this poem.

1) Jantar  is the Slavic word for fossilized amber stone, probably deriving from the Phoenecian word jainitar meaning "sea-resin."

2) Anbar  is the Arabic word for ambergris, a substance produced by the digestive system of whales.  Historically, it was considered equivalent or related to the stone amber, which is where that word came from.

3) Yu  is the Chinese word for jade.

4) Aether  is the element of Quintessence, and the origin is Greek.

5) Pyra  is the element of Fire, and the origin is Greek.

6) Hudor  is the element of Water, and the origin is Greek.

7) Rhizomata  is the Greek word for "roots."  It refers to the four elements of aer (Air), ge  (Earth), hudor  (Water), and pyra  (Fire).

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9 comments or Leave a comment
rix_scaedu From: rix_scaedu Date: June 7th, 2012 06:49 am (UTC) (Link)
I can't help but wonder where New Zealand greenstone would fit into this. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pounamu
It seems to me that the Maori names for the different varieties would sound well in alchemy.

Edited at 2012-06-07 06:54 am (UTC)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: June 7th, 2012 07:17 am (UTC) (Link)


Here there are two types of jade: nephrite and jadeite. Historically people had no way to distinguish them as different stones. I believe that the alchemical jade of nether-Earth is all one kind, essentially spanning both as it comes in different colors and qualities which probably derive from trace materials added to the pure jade. They would have a way to distinguish different stones because the alchemical behavior would be different, and all the jade has similar properties (allowing for some subtle variations due to color or clarity). People may well have various names for specific colors or flavors of jade and some are probably preferred for particular uses. (Think of it the way a narrowish color range of synthetic ruby was made for lasers.)

Feel free to hang onto your idea as a future prompt -- I've not connected the Maori to previous activity in nether-Earth but I like them and this series is running heavily multicultural.

Interestingly, people in nether-Earth know that fossilized amber and ambergris are different substances with different alchemical names, but those go by the same common name of "amber" because they work together and have complementary formulae. The jantar (fossilized amber) has A2, E1, W1, F2, Q2 while anbar (ambergris) has A1, E2, W2, F1, Q2. That chemical composition of atoms is what makes them 'rock' against each other.

*chuckle* Just wait until more verses unlock and you get to see Maryam try to figure out how to fit all these bits and bobs together without blowing up anything.
rix_scaedu From: rix_scaedu Date: June 7th, 2012 07:43 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Hmm...

According to the link I sent you greenstone covers both nephrite and bowenite. The nephrite will probably count as yu but the bowenite might not.

I'm sure you and Maryam can have fun with it. :)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: June 7th, 2012 08:10 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Hmm...

Yeah, I think bowenite would not count as yu because it's a type of serpentine. That might be used for different purposes, or they might not bother with it at all if the alchemical qualities of yu are paramount.

I suspect bowenite wouldn't hold nearly the mana charge of true jade. So, hmm, it would probably have the same rhizomata but either Q1 or Q0.
siege From: siege Date: August 21st, 2012 04:06 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Hmm...

Yet there's a reason it's called serpentine. Find that reason, and you may find the formula.
je_reviens From: je_reviens Date: July 3rd, 2012 03:39 pm (UTC) (Link)
Have you read A Discovery of Witches?

I think that works...

I am reading it now. This poem brought it mind bc in that book the main character is a scholar who is researching the history of alchemy and how it was described and illustrated in European manuscripts.
janetmiles From: janetmiles Date: August 14th, 2012 01:25 am (UTC) (Link)
This is a charming poem, and this bit
Everything was connected by splendid array
of machinery comprising all seven exalted metals
gleaming and whirring dramatically,
complete with a copperplate listing on the door
that featured all the participating alchemists.
just made me smile all over.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: August 14th, 2012 01:38 am (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

>>This is a charming poem, and this bit<<

Steampr0n, served hot!
thnidu From: thnidu Date: November 6th, 2014 05:12 am (UTC) (Link)
I just read this, following your backlink from a recent poem in the same series. Wow. Maryam is fine!

• Mechanical Jamberee
→ Jamboree

• chauffer
→ chauffeur

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