Several Train Journeys

The Train Journey                                               John Middleton Murray

For what cause? To what end?
Into what nameless disaster speeding
Through a twilight cavern of space unheeding,
Through vapours of tears, with a numb heart bleeding,
Torn from what friend?

Cause there is none, nor friend;
Nor was that joy from which I parted,
But only what is no longer, yet departed
It’s voice rings golden to me broken-hearted,
Saying, There is no end.


The Send-Off                                             Wilfred Owen

Down the close, darkening lanes they sang their way
To the siding shed,
And lined the train with faces grimly gay.

Their breasts were stuck all white with wreaths and spray
As mens’s are, dead.

Dull porters watched them, and a casual tramp
Stood staring hard,
Sorry to miss them from the upland camp.
Then, unmoved, signals nodded, and a lamp
Winked to the guard.

So secretly, like wrongs hushed up, they went.
They were not ours;
We never heard to which front they were sent.

Nor there if they yet mock what women meant
Who have them flowers.

Shall they return to beatings of great bells
In wild trainloads?
A few, a few, too few for drums and yells,
May creep back silent, to still vintage wells
Up half- known roads


Journey.                               Harold Monro


How many times I miss the train
By running up the staircase once again
For some dear trifle almost left behind.
At that last moment the unwary mind
Forgets the solemn tick of station-time;
That muddy lane the feet must climb –
The bridge – the ticket – signal down –
Train just emerging beyond the town:
The great blue engine panting as it takes
The final curve, and grinding on its brakes
Up to the platform edge. . . . The little doors
Swing open, while the burly porter roars.
The tight compartment fills : our careful eyes
Go to explore each other’s destinies.
A lull. The station-master waves. The train
Gathers, and grips, and takes the rails again,
Moves to the shining open land, and soon
Begins to tittle-tattle a tame tattoon.

(sections II, III, IV continue and conclude the journey)


THE PARTING             Guy Butler, from ‘Stranger to Europe Poems 1939-1949′

Mounting, they crossed the ridge beneath the stars
Whose midnight brilliance seemed to shake and fill
The silence with dim strumming, like guitars
Heard from a distance when the air is still;
When the hidden half of the heart’s responding wire
Emits its own, still barely known, desire.

But when, dose by, two night jars broke
The starry strumming with their forlorn shriek
He felt it was the parting farm that spoke
Against far countries he was soon to seek.
Dismounting to open the creaking boundary gate                                                                          How rough underfoot the track’s familiar grit!

A pulse beyond the peak; then from the pass
Swivelled the headlight’s straight and scything ray.
Metal music over miles of grass
Rose to a roar, then blurred, then died away
To a dimmer, more exciting tripple beat
Like the throb in his throat, the horses’ feet.

Black-gloved bluegums mourning under the moon.
A mongrel yowling in the cinder-yard.
White, concrete platform. “Down train due in soon”,
Said in a dry dead voice by the tired guard;
But telegraph wires and poles were lines and bars
For the tense, dim strumming of far guitars.

The engine beat grew louder, louder till
It struck great bass chords from the iron bridge;
Then effortless, ominous, inevitable
Slid hiss-hissing down the smooth black ridge
Towards a heart bewildered. fluttering fast
From the small, now open cage of an empty past,

Then drew up silent and seemed to fall asleep
While they stood talking of last stock-fair day,
A recent law-suit, anything to keep
Control of these last minutes, not to betray
To each how each before Time’s magistrate
Was stuttering, inarticulate.

Not waiting for the whistle, the old man turned
With half a smile: “You’re good at shooting buck.
Remember there up North what you have learnt.
And don’t take stupid risks”. And then, “Goodluck”.
Embarrassed by his heart’s, his tongue’s distress
He barely managed to mutter a wry God-bless.

A childish lump in his throat, against his will,
Watching those shoulders darken out of sight,
Hearing the hooves grow dim on the slumbering hill …
Then only the engine hissing at the night:
Only the thought: He’s at the boundary gate.
He turns. He hears the birds. He feels the grit.

But when the whistle drove a long spear through
The unexpecting stillness, when, after a minute,
Echoes lapped back hollowly, he knew
His heart adventure-hungry, and hard within it
A doubt that an arid plain of rock and scrub
Could be his being’s centre, his whole life’s hub.

The first jets forced the angry cylinders,
And all down the train the couplings rang.
Ten bluegums struck the heavenly guitars,
o all the danger in him leapt and sang! –
But waiting with cries for other nights and stars,
Caught in his caging heart, slept two nightjars.


I would have included Adlestrop  by Edward Thomas but it has appeared here previously if you care to search in tags.

The first three poems are from ‘Selections from Modern Poets’ published 1927 by Martin Secker and Warburg, se;escted by J C Squire.   He started compiling in 1919 and cosidered it a selection of the best Modern Young Poets of the day.  None of them born before 1870, several dying in the First World War.  The book contains a fair number of  well-known now established names, respected writers of fiction as well as poetry.  Plus, for me a good mix of people I have come across only briefly or maybe not at all.

‘Modern’ was of the period but may not fit too well with poetry of today, ‘Georgian’ may fit better as well as  ‘Imagist’ but the sharpets edges may come from the ‘War Poets’ and  these accelerated the greatest boundary changes.

The Guy Butler is from the Second World war fitting the theme of trains and comes from the scenery of South Africa at the outbreak of the war.   I would have liked to include the complete poem by Harold Monro but felt it would stretch these pages a little too far. Maybe another time.


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