Two Wars – by Edmund Blunden (1896-1974)
Professing loud energy, out of the junction departed
The branch-line engine. The small train rounded the bend
Watched by us pilgrims of summer, and most by me, –
Who had known this picture since first my travelling started,
And knew it as sadly pleasant, the usual end
Of singing returns to beloved simplicity.
The small train went from view behind the plantation,
Monotonous, – but there’s a grace in monotony!
I felt its journey, I watched in imagination
Its brown smoke spun with sunshine wandering free
Past the great weir with its round flood-mirror beneath,
And where the magpie rises from orchard shadows,
And among the oasts, and like a rosy wreath
Mimicking children’s flower-play in the meadows.
The thing so easy, so daily, of so small stature
Gave me another picture: of war’s warped face
Where still the sun and the leaf and the lark praised Nature,
But no little engine bustled from place to place;
When summer succeeded summer, yet only ghosts
Or tomorrow’s ghosts could venture hand or foot
In the track between the terrible telegraph-posts, –
the end of all things lying between the hut
Which lurked this side, and the shattered local train
So easy it was; and should that come again -.
This poem caught my attention for two reasons. Firstly, I love trains and, in our open Northamptonshire and Leicestershire landscape, we often see brightly coloured trains snaking across the landscape like giant caterpillars and we all try to be the first one to shout out ‘Caterpillar!’ when we see one. I am also absolutely appalling in the morning and the farmer groaning as he “feels the day like a familiar ache deep in his body” rings great, clanging bells with me, except that I add hideous swearing to the groans.
This poem can also be found in the gorgeous little volume of ‘Railway Rhymes’ edited by Peter Ashley.
The Wayside Station – by Edwin Muir (1887-1959)
Here at the wayside station, as many a morning,
I watch the smoke torn from the fumy engine
Crawling across the field in serpent sorrow.
Flat in the east, held down by stolid clouds,
The struggling day is born and shines already
On its warm hearth far off. Yet something here
Glimmers along the ground to show the seagulls
White on the furrows’ black unturning waves.
But now the light has broadened.
I watch the farmsteads on the little hill,
That seems to mutter: ‘here is day again’
Unwillingly. Now the sad cattle wake
In every byre and stall,
The ploughboy stirs in the loft, the farmer groans
And feels the day like a familiar ache
Deep in his body, though the house is dark.
The lovers part
Now in the bedroom where the pillows gleam
Great and mysterious as deep hills of snow,
An inaccessible land. The wood stands waiting
While the bright snare slips coil by coil around it,
Dark silver on every branch. The lonely stream
That rode through darkness leaps the gap of light,
Its voice grown loud, and starts its winding journey
Through the day and time and war and history.