Railway Poems

 RETURN TO THE HOMEPAGE                                                                                                                                                                                                                              RAILWAY BRITAIN

The Journey

How many times I nearly 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—the 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.

They ramble through the country-side,
Dear gentle monsters, and we ride
Pleasantly seated—so we sink
Into a torpor on the brink
Of thought, or read our books, and understand
Half them and half the backward-gliding land:
(Trees in a dance all twirling round;
Large rivers flowing with no sound;
The scattered images of town and field,
Shining flowers half concealed.)
And, having settled to and equal rate,
They swing the curve and straighten to the straight,
Curtail their stride and gather up their joints,
Snort, dwindle their steam for the noisy points,
Leap them in safety, and, the other side,
Loop again to and even stride.

The long train moves: we move in it along.
Like an old ballad, or an endless song,
It drones and wimbles its unwearied croon—
Croons, drones, and mumbles all the afternoon.

Towns with their fifty chimneys close and high,
Wreathes in great smoke between the earth and sky,
It hurtles through them, and you think it must
Halt—but it shrieks and sputters them with dust,
Cracks like a bullet through their big affairs,
Rushes the station-bridge, and disappears
Out to the suburb, laying bare
Each garden trimmed with pitiful care;
Children are caught at idle play,
Held a moment, and thrown away.
Nearly everyone looks round.
Some dignifies inhabitant is found
Right in the middle of the commonplace—
Buttoning his trousers, or washing his face.

Oh, the wild engine! Every time I sit
In any train I must remember it.
The way it smashes through the air; its great
Petulant majesty and terrible rate:
Driving the ground before it, with those round
Feet pounding, eating, covering the ground;
The piston using up the white steam so
The cutting, the embankment; how it takes
the tunnels, and the clatter that it makes;
So careful of the train and of the track,
Guiding us out, or helping us go back;
Breasting its destination: at the close
Yawning, and slowly dropping to a doze.

We who have looked each other in the eyes
This journey long, and trundled with the train,
Now to our separate purposes must rise,
Becoming decent strangers once again.
The little chamber we have made our home
In which we so conveniently abode,
The complicated journey we have come,
Must be an unremembered episode.
Our common purpose made us all like friends.
How suddenly it ends!
A nod, a murmur, or a little smile,
Or often nothing, and away we file.
I hate to leave you, comrades. I will stay
To watch you drift apart and pass away.
It seems impossible to go and meet
All those strange eyes of people in the street.
But, like some proud unconsious god, the train
Gathers us up and scatters us again.

A poem written by:


From a Railway Carriage

Faster than fairies, faster than witches,
Bridges and houses, hedges and ditches,
And charging along like troops in a battle,
All through the meadows the horses and cattle:
All of the sights of the hill and the plain
Fly as thick as driving rain;
And ever again in the wink of an eye,
Painted stations whistle by.

Here is a child who clambers and scrambles,
All by himself and gathering brambles;
Here is a tramp who stands and grazes;
And there is a green for stringing daisies!
Here is a cart run away in the road
Lumping along with man and load;
And here is a mill and there is a river:
Each a glimpse and gone for ever!

A poem written by:


In the Train

I am in a long train gliding through England,

Gliding past green fields and gentle grey willows,
Past huge dark elms and meadows full of buttercups,
And old farms dreaming among mossy apple trees.

Now we are in a dingy town of small ugly houses
And tin advertisements of cocoa and Sunlight Soap,
Now we are in dreary station built of coffee-coloured wood,
Where barmaids in black stand in empty Refreshment Rooms,
And shabby old women sit on benches with suitcases.

Now we are by sidings where coaltrucks lurk disconsolate
Bright skies overarch us with shining cloud palaces,
Sunshine flashes on canals, and then the rain comes,
Silver rain from grey skies lashing our window panes;
Then it is bright again and white smoke is blowing
Gaily over a pale blue sky among the telegraph wires.

Northward we rush under bridges, up gradients,
Through black, smoky tunnels, over iron viaducts,
Past platelayers and signal boxes, factories and warehouses;
Afternoon is fading among the tall brick chimney-stacks
In the murky Midlands where meadows grow more colourless.
Northward, O train, you rush, resolute, invincible,
Northward to the night where your banner of flying smoke
Will glow in the darkness with burning spark and ruddy flame.

Be the train, my life, see the shining meadows,
Glance at the quiet farms, the gardens and shady lanes,
But do not linger by them, look at the dingy misery
Of all those silly towns, see it, hate it and remember it,
But never accept it. You must only accept you own road:
The strong unchanging steel rails of necessity,
The ardent power that drives you towards night and the unknown terminus.

A poem written by:


Morning Express

Along the wind-swept platform, pinched and white,
The travellers stand in pools of wintry light,
Offering themselves to morn’s long slanting arrows.
The train’s due; porters trundle laden barrows.
The train steams in, volleying resplendent clouds
Of sun-blown vapour. Hither and about,
Scared people hurry, storming the doors in crowds.
The officials seem to waken with a shout,
Resolved to hoist and plunder; some to the vans
Leap; others rumble the milk in gleaming cans.

Boys, indolent-eyed, from baskets leaning back,
Question each face; a man with a hammer steals
Stooping from coach to coach; with clang and clack,
Touches and tests, and listens to the wheels.
Guard sounds a warning whistle, points to the clock
With brandished flag, and on his folded flock
Claps the last door: the monster grunts; ‘Enough!’
Tightening his load of links with pant and puff.
Under the arch, then forth into blue day;
Glide the processional windows on their way,
And glimpse the stately folk who sit at ease
To view the world like kings taking the seas
In prosperous weather: drifting banners tell
Their progress to the counties; with them goes
The clamour of their journeying; while those
Who sped them stand to wave a last farewell.

A poem written by:


The Bridge

Here, with one leap,
The bridge that spans the cutting; on its back
The load
Of the main-road,
And under it the railway-track.

Into the plains they sweep,
Into the solitary plains asleep,
The flowing lines, the parallel lines of steel—
Fringes with their narrow grass,
Into the plains they pass,
The flowing lines, like arms of mute appeal.

A cry
Prolonged across the earth—a call
To the remote horizons and the sky;
The whole east rushes down them with its light,
And the whole west receives them, with its pall
Of stars and night—
The flowing lines, the parallel lines of steel.

And with the fall
Of darkness, see! The red,
Bright anger of the signal, where it flares
Like a huge eye that stares
On some hid danger in the dark ahead.
A twang of wire—unseen
The signal drops; and now, instead
Of a red eye, a green.

Out of the silence grows
An iron thunder---grows, and roars, and sweeps,
Menacing! The plain
Suddenly leaps,
Startled, from its repose—
Alert and listening. Now, from the gloom
Of the soft distance, loom
Three lights and, over them, a brush
Of tawny flame and flying spark—
Three pointed lights that rush,
Monstrous, upon the cringing dark.

And nearer, nearer rolls the sound,
Louder the throb and roar of wheels,
The shout of speed, the shriek of steam;
The sloping bank,

Cut into flashing squares, gives back the clank
And grind of metal, while the ground
Shudders and the bridge reels—
As, with a scream,
The train,
A rage of smoke, a laugh of fire,
A lighted anguish of desire,
A dream
Of gold and iron, of sound and flight,
Tumultuous roars across the night.

The train roars past—and , with a cry,
Drowned in a flying howl of wind,
Half-stifled in the smoke and blind,
The plain,
Shaken, exultant, unconfined,
Rises, flows on, and follows, and sweeps by,
Shrieking, to lose itself in distance and the sky.

A poem written by:


The Express

After the first powerful plain manifesto
The black statement of pistons, without more fuss
But gliding like a queen, she leaves the station.
Without bowing and with restrained unconcern
She passes the houses which humbly crowd outside,
The gasworks and at last the heavy page
Of death, printed by gravestones in the cemetery.
Beyond the town there lies the open country
Where, gathering speed, shed acquires mystery,
The luminous self-possession of shops on ocean.
It is now she begins to sing—at first quite low
Then loud, and at last with a jazzy madness—
The song of her whistle screaming at curves,
Of deafening tunnels, brakes, innumerable bolts.

And always light, aerial, underneath
Goes the elate metre of her wheels.
Steaming through metal landscape on her lines
She plunges new eras of wild happiness
Where speed throws up strange shapes, broad curves
And parallels clean like the steel of guns.
At last, further than Edinburgh or Rome,
Beyond the crest of the world, she reaches night
Where only a low streamline brightness
Of phosphorus on the tossing hills is white.
Ah, like a comet through flame she moves entranced
Wrapt in her music no bird song, no, nor bough
Breaking with honey buds, shall ever equal.

A poem written by:


The Night Mail

This is the night mail crossing the border,
Bringing the cheque  and the postal order,
Letters for the rich, letters for the poor,
The shop at the corner and the girl next door.
Pulling up Beattock, a steady climb—
The gradient’s against her, but she’s on time.

Past cotton grass and moorland boulder
Shovelling white steam over her shoulder,
Snorting noisily as she passes
Silent miles of wind-bent grasses.
Birds turn their heads as she approaches,
Stare from the bushes at her blank-faces coaches.
Sheep dogs cannot turn her course,
They slumber on with paws across.
In the farm she passes no one wakes,
But a jug in the bedroom gently shakes.

Dawn freshens, the climb is done.
Down towards Glasgow she descends
Towards the steam tugs yelping down the glade of cranes,
Towards the fields of apparatus, the furnaces
Set on the dark plain like gigantic chessmen.
All Scotland Waits for her:
In the dark glens, beside the pale-green lochs
Men long for news.

Letters of thanks, letters from banks,
Letters of joy from girl and boy,
Receipted  bills and invitations
To inspect new stock or visit relations,
And applications for situations
And timid lovers’ declarations,
And gossip, gossip from all the nations,
News circumstantial, news financial,
Letters with holiday snaps to enlarge in,
Letters with faces scrawled in the margin,
Letters from uncles, cousins and aunts,
Letters to Scotland from the South of France,
Letters of condolence to Highlands and Lowlands,
Notes from overseas to Hebrides
Written on paper of every hue,
The pink, the violet, the white and the blue,
The chatty, the catty, the boring , adoring,
The cold and official and the heart’s outpouring,
Clever, stupid, short and long,
The typed and the printed and the spelt all wrong.

Thousands are still asleep
Dreaming of terrifying monsters,
Or a friendly tea beside the band at Cranston’s or Crowford’s:
Asleep in working Glasgow, asleep in well-set Edinburgh,
Asleep in granite Aberdeen.
They continue their dreams;
But shall wake soon and long for letters,
And none will hear the postman’s knock
Without a quickening of the heart,
For who can hear and feel himself forgotten?

A poem written by:

W.H. Auden

Skimbleshanks: The Railway Cat

There’s a whisper down the line at 11:39
When the Night Mail’s ready to depart,
Saying ‘Skimble where is Skimble has he gone to hunt the thimble?
We must find him or the train can’t start.’
All the guards and all the porters and the stationmaster’s daughters
They are searching high and low,
Saying ‘Skimble where is Skimble for unless he’s very nimble
Then the Night Mail just can’t go.’
At 11:42 then the signal’s nearly due
And the passengers are frantic to a man—
Then Skimble will appear and he’ll saunter to the rear:
He’s been busy in the luggage van!
He gives one flash of his glass-green eyes
And the signal goes ‘All Clear!’
And we’re off at last for the northern part
Of the Northern Hemisphere!

You may say that by and large it is Skimble who’s in charge
Of the Sleeping Car Express.
From the driver and the guards to the bagmen playing cards
He will supervise them all, more or less.
Down the corridor he paces and examines all the faces
Of the travellers in the First and in the Third;
He establishes control by a regular patrol
And he’d know at once if anything occurred.
He will watch you without winking and he sees what you are thinking
And it’s certain that he doesn’t approve
Of hilarity and riot, so the folk are very quiet
When Skimble is about and on the move.
You can play no pranks with Skimbleshanks!
He’s a Cat that cannot be ignored;
So nothing goes wrong on the Northern Mail
When Skimbleshanks is aboard.

Oh it’s very pleasant when you have found your little den
With your name written up on the door.
And the berth is very neat with a newly folded sheet
And there’s not a speck of dust on the floor.
There is every sort of light—you can make it dark or bright;
There’s a handle that you turn to make a breeze.
There’s a funny little basin you’re supposed to wash your face in
And a crank to shut the window if you sneeze.
Then the guard looks in politely and will ask you very brightly
‘Do you like your morning tea weak or strong?’
But Skimble’s just behind him and was ready to remind him,
For Skimble won’t let anything go wrong.
And when you creep into your cosy berth
And pull up the counterpane,
You ought to reflect that it’s very nice
To know that you won’t be bothered by mice—
You can leave all that to the Railway Cat,
The Cat of the Railway Train!

In the watches of the night he is always fresh and bright;
Every now and then he has a cup of tea
With perhaps a drop of Scotch while he’s keeping on the watch,
Only stopping here and there to catch a flea.
You were fast asleep at Crewe and so you never knew
That he was walking up and down the station;
You were sleeping all the while he was busy at Carlisle,
Where he greets the stationmaster with elation.
But you saw him at Dumfries, where he speaks to the police
If there’s anything they ought to know about:
When you get to Gallowgate there you do not have to wait—
For Skimbleshanks will help you to get out!
He gives you a wave of his long brown tail
Which says: ‘I’ll see you again!
You’ll meet without fail on the Midnight Mail
The Cat of the Railway Train.’

A poem written by:


The Train

A green eye—and a red—in the dark
Thunder—smoke—and a spark.

It is there—it is here—flashed by.
Whither will the wild thing fly?

It is rushing, tearing thro’ the night,
Rending her gloom in its flight.

It shatters her silence with shrieks.
What is it the wild thing seeks?

Alas! For it hurries away.
Them that are fain to stay.

Hurrah! For it carries home
Lovers and friends that roam.

A poem written by:



Yes. I remember Adlestrop—
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.

The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform, What I saw
Was Adlestrop—only the name

And willows, willow-herb, and grass,
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
No whit less still and lonely fair
Then the high cloudlets in the sky.

And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the Birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.

A poem written by:


Homecoming to Cornwall: December 1942

A landslide on the line, the train diverted
Back up the valley of the red Exe in spate
Rich with Devonshire soil, flooding the green
Meadows, swirling round the wooded bends,
The December quality of light on boles of trees,
Black and shining out of the gathering dark,
The sepia brushwood, against the western skies
Filtering the last watercolour light.
(Why should the eyes fill with tears, as if
One should not look upon the like again?
So many eyes have seen that coign of wood,
That curve of river, the pencil screen of trees,)
I fall asleep; the train feels slowly round
The unfamiliar northern edge of Dartmoor.
It is night and we are entering Cornwall strangely:
The sense of excitement wakens me, to see
Launceston perched on a shoulder like Liege,
The young moon white above the moving clouds.
The train halts in the valley where monks prayed,
Under the castle keep the Normans ruled
And Edward the Black Prince visited. We stop

At every wayside halt, a signal-box,
An open waiting shed, a shrub or two,
A friendly voice out of the night, a lamp—
Egloskerry, Tresmeer and Otterham—
And out upon the shaven moonlit moor.
The seawind blows from the Atlantic coast,
A seabird sails over, whitens in the moon:
The little scattered houses crouch for shelter,
A few withies about them, a stunted elm
Or showl of ash or thorn, a pool that gleams
In the strange light upon the downs
That look towards Rowtor where King Arthur hunted
The red deer, and met at last with Mordred.
Where all day long the noise of battle rolled
Among the mountains by the winter sea.
In the mind’s eye I see the old great poet
Search still for Arthur’s grave in this waste land
Where fragments of forgotten peoples dwell.
All is bare and silent: no light shows:
The white sheep crop on the glimmering pastures;
There is the unforgettable smell of the moor,
Of the seawind on a hundred nameless herbs,
On bracken and gorse, on heather and fern and ivy

(the sick man leans upon the window, weeping
He knows not why, at his home-coming
After many weary months of weakness.)
In the moment of breathing in my native land
I remember to hate: the thousand indignities,
The little humiliations, the small insults
From small people, the hidden emnities,
The slights that hurt the sensibilities
Of a child that, longing for affection, learned
To reward envy with contempt, to speak
The biting word that freezes sympathy,
The instinctive expectation of a blow
To pride or self-respect or decency;
And as a man to mark the averted gaze
of petty shopkeepers on their dunghill pavements;
The meanness of the moneyed middle-class,
The slow passivity of the workers that know
Not their own interest or their enemies.
But, most of all, the vast misunderstanding
That divides me from my people I lament,
The self-willed folly that condemned me long
To opening the eyes of fools, the task
Of a Tregeagle or a  Sisyphus,
The million fond stupidities that make
A modern electorate. Alone in the night,
At the window looking over the moonlit land,
Alone with myself I could beat my head against
The walls for rage and impotent defeat.
Quick! Shut the window. Pull down the blind
Over the lovely landscape. Shut out the sight!

A poem written by:


The Runaway Engine

Once there was a little engine who was full of discontent.
He didn’t like the work he did or the journey he was sent.
And he grumbled to himself as he puffed his way uphill,
“I think it’s time I had a change; I really feel quite ill.”

“I’ve had enough of trucks of coal and nasty smelly fish,
And to have a more important job is the one thing that I wish,
And just because I’m little they don’t listen when I speak,
But I’ll make them hear me this time if it takes me all week.”

So he snorted and he blew, and he made a lot of din,
But not the slightest notice did his driver take of him.
This so annoyed the engine that with rage he really shook,
And then he gave his driver a nasty, horrid look.

“I’ll teach him not to listen,” he stuttered through his steam.
He stamped his wheels with temper and really made a scene.
“ I won’t put up with this,” he said, “another single day!
There’s only one thing left to do—I’ll have to run away.”

So that night when none could see him, he crept out of his shed,
And tired of going uphill went the other way instead.
“Now this is rather fun,” he said, and gave a little hop,
But he soon found to his horror that he simply couldn’t stop.

Faster, faster went his wheels, his whistle blew with fright.
He went so fast he left the rails—how he wished that he could stop,
But he went right in the water with a simply frightful plop!

He lay there and he gurgled for he couldn’t even shout,
And he said that he was sorry when they came and pulled him out.
And now he whistles gaily as he does his work each day,
For he knows he’d rather stay at home than ever run away.

A poem written by:


To a Locomotive in Winter

Thee for my recitative,
Thee in driving storm even as now, the snow, the winter-day declining,
Thee in thy panoply, they measured dual throbbing and they beat convulsive,
Thy black cylindric body, golden brass and silvery steel,
Thy ponderous side-bows, parallel and connecting rods, gyrating, strutting at thy sides,
Thy metrical, now swelling pant and roar, now tapering in the distance.
Thy great protruding heat-light fixed in front,
Thy long pale, floating vapour-pennants, tinged with delicate purple,
The dense and murky clouds out-belching from thy smoke-stack,
Thy knitted frame, thy springs and valves, the tremulous twinkle of thy wheels,
Thy train of cars behind, obedient , merrily following,
Through gale or calm, now swift, now slack, yet steadily careering;
Type of the modern-emblem of motion and power-pulse of the continent,
For once come serve the Muse and merge in verse, even as here I see thee,
With storm and buffeting gusts of wind and falling snow,
By day thy warming ringing bell to sound its notes,
By night thy silent signal lamps to swing.

Fierce-throated beauty!
Roll through by chant with all thy lawless music, thy swinging lamps at night,
Thy madly-whistled laughter, echoing, rumbling like and earthquake rousing all,
Law of thyself complete, thine own track firmly holding,
(No sweetness debonair of tearful harp or glib piano thine,)
Thy trills of shrieks by rocks and hills returned,
Launched o’er the prairies wide, across the lakes,
To the free skies upent  and glad and strong.

A poem written by:


Seen from the Train

Somewhere between Crewkerne
And Yeovil it was. On the left of the line
Just as the crinkled hills unroll
To the plain. A church on a small green knoll—
A limestone church,
And above the church
Cedar boughs stretched like hands that yearn
To protect or to bless. The whole

Stood up, antique and clear
As a cameo, from the vale. I swear
It was not a dream. Twice, thrice, had I found it
Chancing to look as my train wheeled round it
But this time I passed,
Though I gazed as I passed
All the way down the valley, that knoll was not there,
Nor the church, nor the trees it moulded.

What came between to unsight me?…..
But suppose, only suppose there might be
A secret look it the landscape’s eye
Following you as you hasten by
And you have your chance—
Two or three chances
At most—to hold and interpret it rightly,
Or it is gone for aye.

There was a time when men
Would have called it a vision said that sin
Had blinded me since to a heavenly fact.
Well, I have neither invoked nor faked
Any church in the air,
And little I care
Whether or no I shall see it again.
But blindly my heart is racked

When I think how, not twice or thrice,
But year after year in another’s eyes
I have caught the look that I missed today
Of the church, the knoll, the cedars—a ray
Of the faith, too, they stood for,
The hope they were food for
The love they prayed for, the facts beyond price—
And turned my eyes away.

A poem written by:


The Song of the Engine

When you travel on the railway,
And the line goes up a hill,
Just listen to the engine
As it pulls you with a will.
Though it goes very slowly
It sings this little song.
“I think I can, I think I can,”
And so it goes along.

But later on the Journey,
When you’re going down a hill,
The train requires no pulling,
And the engine’s singing still.
If you listen very quietly
You will hear this little song,
“I thought I could, I thought I could!”
And so it speeds along.

A poem written by:


The Railway Bridge of the Silvery Tay

Beautiful Railway Bridge of the Silvery Tay!
With your numerous arches and pillars in so grand array
And your central girders, which seem to the eye
To be almost towering to the sky.
The greatest wonder of the day,
And a great beautification to the River Tay,
Most beautiful to be seen,
Near by Dundee and the Magdalen Green.

Beautiful Railway Bridge of the Silvery Tay!
That has caused the Emperor of Brazil to leave
His home far away, incognito in his dress,
And view thee ere he passed along en route to Inverness.

Beautiful Railway Bridge of the Silvery Tay!
The longest of the present day
That has ever crossed o'er a tidal river stream,
Most gigantic to be seen,
Near by Dundee and the Magdalen Green.

Beautiful Railway Bridge of the Silvery Tay!
Which will cause great rejoicing on the opening day
And hundreds of people will come from far way,
Also the Queen, most gorgeous to be seen,
Near by Dundee and the Magdalen Green.

Beautiful Railway Bridge of the Silvery Tay!
And prosperity to Provost Cox, who has given
Thirty thousand pounds and upwards away
In helping to erect the Bridge of the Tay,
Most handsome to be seen,
Near by Dundee and the Magdalen Green.

Beautiful Railway Bridge of the Silvery Tay!
I hope that God will protect all passengers
By night and by day,
And that no accident will befall them while crossing
The Bridge of the Silvery Tay,
For that would be most awful to be seen
Near by Dundee and the Magdalen Green.

Beautfil Railway Bridge of the Silvery Tay!
And prosperity to Messrs Bouche and Grothe,
The famous engineers of the present day,
Who have succeeded in erecting the Railway Bridge of the Silvery Tay,
Which stands unequalled to be seen
Near by Dundee and the Magdalen Green.

A poem written by:


The Metropolitan Railway

Baker Street Station Buffet

Early Electric! With what radiant hope
  Men formed this many-branched electrolier,
Twisted the flex around the iron rope
  And let the dazzling vacuum globes hang clear,
And then with hearts the rich contrivance fill'd
  Of copper, beaten by the Bromsgrove Guild.

  Early Electric! Sit you down and see,
'Mid this fine woodwork and a smell of dinner,
  A stained-glass windmill and a pot of tea,
And sepia views of leafy lanes in Pinner,
  Then visualize, far down the shining lines,
Your parents' homestead set in murmuring pines.


Smoothly from Harrow, passing Preston Road,
  They saw the last green fields and misty sky,
At Neasden watched a workmen's train unload,
  And, with the morning villas sliding by,
They felt so sure on their electric trip
  That Youth and Progress were in partnership.

  And all that day in murky London Wall
The thought of Ruislip kept him warm inside;
  At Farringdon that lunch hour at a stall
He bought a dozen plants of London Pride;


While she, in arc-lit Oxford Street adrift,
Soared through the sales by safe hydraulic lift.

Early Electric! Maybe even here
They met that evening at six-fifteen
Beneath the hearts of this electrolier
And caught the first non-stop to Willesden Green,
  Then out and on, through rural Rayner's Lane
To autumn-scented Middlesex again.

Cancer has killed him. Heart is killing her.
  The trees are down. An Odeon flashes fire
Where stood their villa by the murmuring fir
  When they would for their children's good conspire.
Of their loves and hopes on hurrying feet
  Thou art the worn memorial, Baker Street.

A poem written by:


Pershore Station, or A Liverish Journey First Class

The train at Pershore station was waiting that Sunday night
 Gas light on the platform, in my carriage electric light,
Gas light on frosty evergreens, electric on Empire wood,
The Victorian world and the present in a moment's neighbourhood.
There was no one about but a conscript who was saying good-bye to his love
On the windy weedy platform with the sprinkled stars above
  When sudden the waiting stillness shook with the ancient spells
Of an older world than all our worlds in the sound of the Pershore bells.
They were ringing them down for Evensong in the lighted abbey near,
  Sounds which had poured through apple boughs for seven centuries here.

With Guilt, Remorse, Eternity the void within me fills
And I thought of her left behind me in the Herefordshire hills.
  I remembered her defencelessness as I made my heart a stone
Till she wove her self-protection round and left me on my own.
  And plunged in a deep self pity I dreamed of another wife
And lusted for freckled faces and lived a separate life.
  One word would have made her love me, one word would have made her turn
  But the word I never murmured and now I am left to burn.
Evesham, Oxford and London. The carriage is new and smart.
  I am cushioned and soft and heated with a deadweight in my heart.

A poem written by:


Great Central Railway: Sheffield Victoria to Banbury

  Unmitigated England
Came swinging down the line
  That day the February sun
Did crisp and crystal shine.
  Dark red at Kirkby Bentinck stood
A steeply gabled farm
  'Mid ash trees and a sycamore
In charismatic calm.
  A village street - a manor house -
A church - then, tally ho!
  We pounded through a housing scheme
With tellymasts a-row,
  Where cars of parked executives
Did regimented wait
  Beside administrative blocks
Within the factory gate.
  She waved to us from Hucknall South
As we hooted round a bend,
  From a curtained front-window did
The diesel driver's friend.
  Through cuttings deep to Nottingham
Precariously we wound;
  The swallowing tunnel made the train
Seem London's Underground.
  Above the fields of Leicestershire
On arches we were born

   And the rumble of the railway drowned
  The thunder of the Quorn;
And silver shone the steeples out
  Above the barren boughs;
Colts in a paddock ran from us
  But not the solid cows;
And quite where Rugby Central is
  Does only Rugby know.
We watched the empty platform wait
  And sadly saw it go.
By now the sun of afternoon
  Showed ridge and furrow shadows
And shallow unfamiliar lakes
  Stood shivering in the meadows.
Is Woodford church or Hinton church
  The one I ought to see?
Or were they both too much restored
  In 1883?
I do not know. Towards the west
  A trail of glory runs
And we leave the old Great Central line
  For Banbury and buns.

A poem written by:


Distant View of a Provincial Town

Beside those spires so spick and span
Against an unencumbered sky
The old Great Western Railway ran
When someone different was I.


St. Aidan's with the prickly nobs
And iron spikes and coloured tiles
Where Auntie Maud devoutly bobs
In those enriched vermilion aisles


St. George's where the mattins bell
But rarely drowned the trams for prayer
No Popish sight or sound or smell
Disturbed that gas-invaded air


St. Mary's where the Rector preached
In such a jolly friendly way
On cricket, football, things that reached
The simple life of every day


And that United Benefice
With entrance permanently locked,
How Gothic, grey and sad it is
Since Mr. Grogley was unfrocked!


The old Great Western Railway shakes
The old Great Western Railway spins
The old Great Western Railway makes
Me very sorry for my sins.

A poem written by:


Love in a Valley

Take me, Lieutenant, to that Surrey homestead!
Red comes the winter and your rakish car,
Red among the hawthorns, redder than the hawberries
And trails of old man's nuisance, and noisier far.
Far, far below me roll the Coulsdon woodlands,
White down the valley curves the living rail,
Tall, tall, above me, olive spike the pinewoods,
Olive against blue-black, moving in the gale.


Deep down the drive go the cushioned rhododendrons,
Deep down, sand deep, drives the heather root,
Deep the spliced timber barked around the summer-house,
Light lies the tennis-court, plantain underfoot.
What a winter welcome to what a Surrey homestead!
Oh! the metal lantern and white enamelled door!
Oh! the spread of orange from the gas-fire on the carpet!
Oh! the tiny patter, sandalled footsteps on the floor!


Fling wide the curtains! that's a Surrey sunset
Low down the line sings the Addiscombe train,
Leaded are the windows lozenging the crimson,
Drained dark the pines in resin-scented rain.
Portable Lieutenant! they carry you to China
And me to lonely shopping in a brilliant arcade;
Firm hand, fond hand, switch the giddy engine!
So for us a last time is bright light made.

A poem written by:


Monody on the Death of Adlersgate Street Station

<>Snow falls in the buffet of Aldersgate station,
Soot hangs in the tunnel in clouds of steam.
City of London! before the next desecration
Let your steepled forest of churches be my theme.

<>Sunday Silence! with every street a dead street,
Alley and courtyard empty and cobbled mews,
Till tingle tang the bell of St. Mildred's Bread Street
Summoned the sermon taster to high box pews,

<>And neighbouring towers and spirelets joined the ringing
With answering echoes from heavy commercial walls
Till all were drowned as the sailing clouds went singing
On the roaring flood of a twelve-voiced peal from Paul's.

<>Then would the years fall off and Thames run slowly;
Out into marshy meadow-land flowed the Fleet
And the walled-in City of London, smelly and holy,
Had a tinkling mass house in every cavernous street.

<>The bells rang down and St. Michael Paternoster
Would take me into its darkness from College Hill,
Or Christ Church Newgate Street with St. Leonard Foster
Would be late for Mattins and ringing insistent still.
  • <> 

Last of the east wall sculpture, a cherub gazes
On broken arches, rosebay, bracken and dock,
Where once I heard the roll of the Prayer Book phrases
And the sumptuous tick of the old west gallery clock.

Snow falls in the buffet of Aldersgate station,
Toiling and doomed from Moorgate Street puffs the train,
For us of the steam and the gas-light, the lost generation,
The new white cliffs of the City are built in vain.

A poem written by:


From the Great Western

These small West Country towns where year by year
Newly elected mayors oppose reforms
Their last year's Worships promised down the roads
Large detached houses, Croydons of the West,
Blister in summer heat; striped awnings hang
Over front doors, and those geraniums,
Retired tradesmen love to cultivate,
Blaze in the gravel. From more furtive streets
Unmarried mothers leave for London. Girls
Who had such promise suddenly lose their looks.
Small businesses go bankrupt. Corners once
Familiar for a shuttered toll gate house
Are smoothed away to make amenities.
The copper beech, the bunchy sycamore
And churchyard limes are felled. Among their stumps
The almond tree shall flourish. Corn Exchange
On with the Poultry Show! and Cemet'ry,
With your twin chapels, safely gather in
Church and dissent from small West Country towns
Where year by year,
Newly elected Mayors oppose reforms.

A poem written by:


Matlock Bath

<>From Matlock Bath's half-timbered station
I see the black dissenting spire
Thin witness of a congregation,
Stone emblem of a Handel choir;
In blest Bethesda's limpid pool
Comes treacling out of Sunday School.

<>By cool Siloam's shady rill
The sounds are sweet as strawberry jam
I raise mine eyes unto the hill,
The beetling Heights of Abraham;
The branchy trees are white with rime
In Matlock Bath this winter-time,

<>And from the whiteness, grey uprearing,
Huge cliffs hang sunless ere they fall,
A tossed and stony ocean nearing
The moment to o'erwhelm us all
Eternal Father, strong to save,
How long wilt thou suspend the wave?

<>How long before the pleasant acres
Of intersecting Lovers' Walks
Are rolled across by limestone breakers,
Whole woodlands snapp'd like cabbage stalks?
O God, our help in ages past,
How long will Speedwell Cavern last?

In this dark dale I hear the thunder
Of houses folding with the shocks,
The Grand Pavilion buckling under
The weight of the Romantic Rocks,
The hardest Blue John ash-trays seem
To melt away in thermal steam.

Deep in their Nonconformist setting
The shivering children wait their doom
The father's whip, the mother's petting
In many a coffee-coloured room;
And attic bedrooms shriek with fright,
For dread of Pilgrims of the Night.

Perhaps it's this that makes me shiver
As I ascend the slippery path
High, high above the sliding river
And terraces of Matlock Bath
A sense of doom, a dread to see
The Rock of Ages cleft for me.

A poem written by:


Dilton Marsh Halt

Was it worth keeping the Halt open,
We thought as we looked at the sky
Red through the spread of the cedar-tree,
With the evening train gone by?

Yes, we said, for in summer the anglers use it,
Two and sometimes three
Will bring their catches of rods and poles and perches
To Westbury, home to tea.

There isn't a porter. The platform is made of sleepers.
The guard of the last up-train puts out the light
And high over lorries and cattle the Halt unwinking
Waits through the Wiltshire night.

O housewife safe in the comprehensive churning
Of the Warminster launderette!
O husband down at the depot with car in car-park!
The Halt is waiting yet.

And when all the horrible roads are finally done for,
And there's no more petrol left in the world to burn,
Here to the Halt from Salisbury and from Bristol
Steam trains will return.

A poem written by:


A Mind's Journey to Diss

Dear Mary,
Yes, it will be bliss
To go with you by train to Diss,
Your walking shoes upon your feet;
We'll meet, my sweet, at Liverpool Street.
That levellers we may be reckoned
Perhaps we'd better travel second;
Or, lest reporters on us burst,
Perhaps we'd better travel first.
Above the chimney-pots we'll go
Through Stepney, Stratford-atte-Bow
And out to where the Essex marsh
Is filled with houses new and harsh
Till, Witham pass'd, the landscape yields
On left and right to widening fields,
Flint church-towers sparkling in the light,
Black beams and weather-boarding white,
Cricket-bat willows silvery green
And elmy hills with brooks between,
Maltings and saltings, stack and quay
And, somewhere near, the grey North Sea;
Then further gentle undulations
With lonelier and less frequent stations,
Till in the dimmest place of all
The train slows down into a crawl
And stops in silence.... Where is this?
Dear Mary Wilson, this is Diss.

A poem written by:


A Lament for Moira McCavendish

Through the midlands of Ireland I journeyed by diesel

And bright in the sun shone the emerald plain;

Though loud sang the birds on the thorn-bush and teasel

They could not be heard for the sound of the train.

The roll of the railway made musing creative:

I thought of the colleen I soon was to see

With her wiry black hair and grey eyes of the native,

Sweet Moira McCavendish, acushla machree.


Her brother's wee cabin stands distant from Tallow

A league and a half, where the Blackwater flows,

And the musk and potato, the mint and the mallow

Do grow there in beauty, along with the rose.


'Twas smoothly we raced through the open expansion

Of rush-covered levels and gate-lodge and gate

And the ruined demesne and the windowless mansion

Where once the oppressor had revelled in state.


At Castletownroche, as the prospect grew hillier,

I saw the far mountains to Moira long-known

Till I came to the valley and townland familiar

With the Protestant church standing locked and alone.


O vein of my heart! upon Tallow Road Station

No face was to greet me, so freckled and white;

As the diesel slid out, leaving still desolation,

The McCavendish ass-cart was nowhere in sight.


For a league and a half to the Blackwater river

I tramped with my bundle her cabin to see

And herself by the fuchsias, her young lips a-quiver

Half-smiling, half-weeping a welcome to me.


Och Moira McCavendish! the fangs of the creeper

Have struck at the thatch and thrust open the door

The couch in the garden grows ranker and deeper

Than musk and potato which bloomed there before.


Flow on, you remorseless and salmon-full waters!

What care I for prospects so silvery fair?

The heart in me's dead, like your sweetest of daughters,

And I would that my spirit were lost on the air.

A poem written by:


The Whitsun Weddings


That Whitsun, I was late getting away:

Not till about

One –twenty on the sunlit Saturday

Did my three-quarters-empty train pull our,

All windows down, all cushions hot, all sense

Of being in a hurry gone. We ran

Behind the backs of houses, crossed a street

Of blinding windscreens, smelt the fish-dock; thence

The river’s level drifting breadth began,

Where sky and Lincolnshire and water meet.


All afternoon, through the tall heat that slept

For miles inland,

A slow and stopping curve southwards we kept.

Wide farms went by, short-shadowed cattle, and

Canals with floatings of industrial froth;

A hothouse flashed uniquely: hedges dipped

And rose: and now and then a smell of grass

Displaced the reek of buttoned carriage-cloth

Until the next town, new and nondescript,

Approached with acres of dismantled cars.


At first, I didn’t notice what a noise

The weddings made

Each station that we stopped at: sun destroys

The interest of what’s happening in the shade,

And down the long cool platforms whoops and skirls

I took for porters larking with the mails,

And went on reading. Once we started, though,

We passed them, grinning and pomaded, girls

In parodies of fashion, heels and veils,

All posed irresolutely, watching us go,


As if out on the end of an event

Waving goodbye

To something that survived it. Struck, I leant

More promptly out next time, more curiously,

And saw it all again in different terms:

The fathers with broad belts under their suits

And seamy foreheads; mothers loud and fat;

An uncle shouting smut; and then the perms,

The nylon gloves and jewellery-substitutes,

The lemons, mauves, and olive-ochres that


Marked off the girls unreally from the rest.

Yes, from the cafes

And banquet-halls up yards, and bunting-dressed

Coach-party annexes, the wedding-days

Were coming to an end. All down the line

Fresh couples climbed aboard: the rest stood around;

The last confetti and advice were thrown,

And, as we moved, each face seemed to define

Just what it saw departing: children frowned

At something dull; fathers had never known


Success so huge and wholly farcical;

The women shared

The secret like a happy funeral;

While girls, gripping their handbags tighter, stared

At a religious wounding. Free at last,

And loaded with the sum of all they saw,

We hurried towards London, shuffling gouts of steam.

Now fields were building-plots and poplars cast

Long shadows over major roads, and for

Some fifty minutes, that in time would seem


Just long enough to settle hats and say

I nearly died,

A dozen marriages got under way.

They watched the landscape, sitting side by side

<!--[if !supportLists]-->-          <!--[endif]-->An Odeon went past, a cooling tower,

And someone running up to bowl – and none

Thought of the others they would never meet

Or how their lives would all contain this hour.

I thought of London spread out in the sun,

Its postal districts packed like squares of wheat:


There we were aimed. And as we raced across

Bright knots of rail

Past standing Pullmans, walls of blackened moss

Came close, and it was nearly done, this frail

Travelling coincidence; and what it held

Stood ready to be loosed with all the power

That being changed can give. We slowed again,

And as the tightened brakes took hold, there swelled

A sense of falling, like an arrow-shower

Sent out of sight, somewhere becoming rain.

A poem written by:


The Railway Station

The darkness brings no quiet here, the light

No waking: ever on my blinded brain

The flare of lights, the rush, and cry, and strain,

The engines' scream, the hiss and thunder smite:

I see the hurrying crowds, the clasp, the flight,

Faces that touch, eyes that are dim with pain:

I see the hoarse wheels turn, and the great train

Move labouring out into the bourneless night.

So many souls within its dim recesses,

So many bright, so many mournful eyes:

Mine eyes that watch grow fixed with dreams and guesses;

What threads of life, what hidden histories,

What sweet or passionate dreams and dark distresses,

What unknown thoughts, what various agonies!

A poem written by:



Blacksyke Wood awakens still to the sound of a blackbird's merry trill.
His lonely tribute to the dawn is to remind us of that fateful morn
for eighty years have slowly passed since madam Fate her five die cast
to fall at random where they may on a perfect, cloudless, sunny day
- at Quintinshill.


She chose the place - she set the scene, near quiet, peaceful Gretna Green.
A train of Royal Scots, "Leith's Own" were battle-trained and leaving home.
Innocents but in their prime and eager for a distant clime.
From Larbert then, excitement high, they'd watched the lowlands passing by
- as day began.


In long descent the "Special" roars,
the rhythmic rails drum wooden floors
as a farm of fluorescent white
ghosts by in early morning's light.
An over-bridge's shadow casts
its hint of gloom but flashes past.
The rattling sound of sleepered joints;
a sway of unexpected points
- then C R A S H . . . . . .


With a roaring, deafening, shattering thud
the trains compressed to splintered wood.
Men crushed to death without a noise
or flung away like ragged toys.
Some scramble blindly, half in dream
bewildered by the wretched screams
to stare at what was once their train,
while trying to focus in the brain
- the question "WHY?"



A second fearful rending sound
comes ploughing through the cindered ground.
Men thankful once to be alive
are mown like corn before the scythe.
A blade of death - of flying steel,
distorted rails and fractured wheels
then, adding further to the strife,
a lazy flame explodes to life
- escaping gas !


The kindled coaches blaze alight;
adrenalin flows through fear and fright
as anxious helpers hear the cries
and fight to where their comrades lie.
Explosions - shots - the scorching heat
and cinders hot beneath their feet.
The panic of the searchers, crying
which petrifies the trapped still lying
- within the flame.


Survivors laid upon a field
succumb to death and quietly yield.
Midst dandelion; daisy; clover; vetch
a pall of death as soldiers retch.
Men of War struck down by chance
far from the poppied fields of France
or a muddy, bloodied, Belgian trench
instead a sickening, searing stench
- on Scottish soil.


Lost with the men - the Battalion Roll,
proof of the Scots horrific toll.
Nameless men for ever more
but known by God at heaven's door.
One sombre photo says it all;
their remnants mustered by a wall.
With staring eyes they line and wait,
distraught in grief yet ramrod straight
- the 7th Royal Scots.


There live yet men who remember well the piercing screams and mangled hell;
the line-side poles all burnt away; gun-metal tarnished bluish-grey.
The horrendous aftermath of fire with carriages for a funeral pyre.
Two hundred soldiers in the sun found death before their war begun
- in friendly fields.


Hardly anything now remains. Just empty loops and ghosts of trains.
Nothing but the "Guinness" book to remind us of the lives it took.
No memorial - no marble stone to mark the loss of boys half-grown;
no signal box - no bells that ring, but in Blacksyke Wood a blackbird sings
- at Quintinshill.

A poem written by:


The Liverpool Overhead Railway

Two intrepid mountaineers with an old discarded rope,
Set out upon a mission with one enduring hope.


To climb the massive iron bridge, towering in the sky,
It was a snow-capped peak seen through a childish eye.


The beginning of this brave assault, mostly went our way.
As we reached the half way point, our limbs began to pay.


The last few thousand feet, got really, really tough.
My partner cried out . “I’m stuck, I think I’ve had enough”.


“Remember your training ” was my reply.
“We didn’t come this far just to die.”


He was trapped by the ice on the cliff’s outcrop.
I knew without my help he’d freeze or drop.


With faux contortions of frostbite face,
I struggled until I reached that place.


Some desperate swings from my trusty ice axe
allowed us time to relax.


Like a crack unit of a well-equipped army,
We broke out the doorstep sarnie.


As we shared our jam smothered bread,
Electric trains ran overhead.


We are famous now they’ll surely say,
For no one else would dare this way.


We scratched with a nail through flaky paint,
until we marked the steel.


On this fine day in ’56 stood heroes
… Jim and Neil.

A poem written by:


Faintheart in a Railway Train

At nine in the morning there passed a church,
At ten there passed me by the sea,
At twelve a town of smoke and smirch,
At two a forest of oak and birch,
And then, on a platform, she:
A radiant stranger, who saw not me.
I queried, "Get out to her do I dare?"
But I kept my seat in my search for a plea,
And the wheels moved on. O could it but be
That I had alighted there!
A poem written by:


At the Railway Station, Upways

‘There is not much that I can do,
For I’ve no money that’s quite my own!’
Spoke up the pitying child—
A little boy with a violin
At the station before the train came in,—
‘But I can play my fiddle to you,
And a nice one ’tis, and good in tone!’
The man in the handcuffs smiled;
The constable looked, and he smiled too,
As the fiddle began to twang;
And the man in the handcuffs suddenly sang
With grimful glee:
‘This life so free
Is the thing for me!’
And the constable smiled, and said no word,
As if unconscious of what he heard;
And so they went on till the train came in—
The convict, and boy with the violin.
A poem written by:


On the Departure Platform

We kissed at the barrier; and passing through

She left me, and moment by moment got

Smaller and smaller, until to my view

She was but a spot;


A wee white spot of muslin fluff

That down the diminishing platform bore

Through hustling crowds of gentle and rough

To the carriage door.


Under the lamplight’s fitful glowers,

Behind dark groups from far and near,

Whose interests were apart from ours,

She would disappear,


Then show again, till I ceased to see

That flexible form, that nebulous white;

And she who was more than my life to me

Had vanished quite.


We have penned new plans since that fair fond day,

And in season she will appear again—

Perhaps in the same soft white array—

But never as then !


—‘And why, young man, must eternally fly

A joy you’ll repeat, if you love her well?’

 —O friend, nought happens twice thus; why,

 I cannot tell!

A poem written by:


The Railway Train

I like to see it lap the miles,
And lick the valleys up,
And stop to feed itself at tanks;
And then, prodigious, step

Around a pile of mountains,
And, supercilious, peer
In shanties by the sides of roads;
And then a quarry pare

To fit its sides, and crawl between,
Complaining all the while
In horrid, hooting stanza;
Then chase itself down hill

And neigh like Boanerges;
Then, punctual as a star,
Stop -- docile and omnipotent --
At its own stable door.

A poem written by:



Gaily into Ruislip Gardens
Runs the red electric train,
With a thousand Ta's and Pardon's
Daintily alights Elaine;
Hurries down the concrete station
With a frown of concentration,
Out into the outskirt's edges
Where a few surviving hedges
Keep alive our lost Elysium - rural Middlesex again.

Well cut Windsmoor flapping lightly,
Jacqmar scarf of mauve and green
Hiding hair which, Friday nightly,
Delicately drowns in Drene;
Fair Elaine the bobby-soxer,
Fresh-complexioned with Innoxa,
Gains the garden - father's hobby -
Hangs her Windsmoor in the lobby,
Settles down to sandwich supper and the television screen.

Gentle Brent, I used to know you
Wandering Wembley-wards at will,
Now what change your waters show you
In the meadowlands you fill!
Recollect the elm-trees misty
And the footpaths climbing twisty
Under cedar-shaded palings,
Low laburnum-leaned-on railings,
Out of Northolt on and upward to the heights of Harrow hill.

Parish of enormous hayfields
Perivale stood all alone,
And from Greenford scent of mayfields
Most enticingly was blown
Over market gardens tidy,
Taverns for the bona fide,
Cockney anglers, cockney shooters,
Murray Poshes, Lupin Pooters
Long in Kensal Green and Highgate silent under soot and stone.

A poem written by:


Will the Lights be White?

Oft, when I feel my engine swerve,
As o'er strange rails we fare,
I strain my eyes around the curve
For what awaits us there.
When swift and free she carries me
Through yards unknown at night,
I look along the line to see
That all the lamps are white


The blue light marks the crippled car,
The green light signals slow;
The red light is a danger light,
The white light, "Let her go."
Again the open fields we roam,
And, when the night is fair,
I look up in the starry dome
And wonder what's up there.


For who can speak for those who dwell
Behind the curving sky?
No man has ever lived to tell
Just what it means to die.
Swift toward life's terminal I trend,
The run seems short to-night;
God only knows what's at the end --
I hope the lamps are white.

A poem written by:


The Flyer

Across the hill and down the dell,
Past station after station;
The muffled music of the bell
Gives voice to each vibration.

Out o'er the prairie, cold and gray,
There falls a flood of fire,
While orders flash for  miles away:
"Take siding for the flyer."

The engine seems to fairly float,
Her iron sinew quiver,
While swift, beneath her throbbing throat,
The rails rush like a river.

Upon the seat the engineer,
Who knows her speed and power,
Sits silently without a fear
At sixty miles an hour.

A poem written by:


Clickety Clack

Clickety click! as out of town
The engine picks her way;
Where barefoot children, sunburnt brown,
In dusty alleys play.
All the summer, early and late,
And in the summer drear,
A maiden stands at the orchard gate,
And waves at the engineer.

He likes to look at her face so fair,
And her homely country dress;
She like to look at the man up there
At the fron of the fast express.
Clickety click! though miles apart,
To her he is always near,
And she feels the click of her happy heart
For the heart of the engineer.

Over the river and down the dell,
Beside the running stream,
She hears the clang of the engine-bell --
The whistle's startled scream.
Clickety click! An open switch --
Onward the engine flies.
Clickety click! They're in the ditch!
Oh, angels! hide her eyes!

Clickety click, and down the track
The train will dash today;
But what of the ribbons of white and black
The engine wears away;
Clickety click! Oh, worlds apart --
The maiden hangs her head.
There is no click in the maiden's heart --
The engineer is dead.

A poem written by:


The Desert Mail

When your feet have strayed from the everglade
To the shore of a shipless sea,
When the bar you've crossed, and at length you're lost
In its hushed immensity;
When you search the wild, with a silence piled
Waist deep, for the desert trail,
There's a distant roar like a sea ashore,
That's the moan of the desert mail.

Through the racing years there the engineers
Sit close to the cabin pane,
While they urge their steeds where the white trail leads
Through the land of Little Rain;
Then out behind, on the desert wind,
Blown back like a bridal veil,
Far, dim and gray like the milky way,
Floats the dust of the desert mail.

When the gaunt wolves howl where the spirits prowl --
The ghosts of the desert's dead,
And the living, lost, where their trails have crossed
Mill 'round, while the sun paints red
The western skies, as the long day dies
And the stars shine dim and pale;
There's a beacon fair on the desert there --
That's the light of the desert mail.

A poem written by:


Little Train to Lynton

I think I am asleep

And of this dream, what part is fog, what part is steam?

For no murmur emits from the Taw and its swifting tide

As a dense sea fret paints a dawn vignette

In which the standard gauge and the impudent must co-abide

Eerily greying Barnstaple Town to a jumbled silhouette

Making surreal the clank of coal being trimmed

Where semaphores, by the damp, are dimmed


I board the little train to Lynton


I yearn to start the climb

To tranquil height, to soothing view, and upland light

A pea-whistle trills and a green flag is waved at last

With a late slamming door there’s a creak ‘neath the floor

And all that was fixed through my window is now drifting past

The wooden carriagettes, awakened, now rock and stretch and yaw

A lullaby enunciates each of the little rail joints

And wheels chirrup, like sparrows, on points


Clickety, clickety, clickety-clack, begins a joyous day

We jog through fog on rickety track by Southern Railway

On two-foot gauge, or near enough, past chunky crossing gates

Eurhythmic Lew’s echoing chuff now self-concatenates


Jiggle, joggle, by fidget’s trail, Lew wends us out of town

An alley sally on midget rail, reluctant to slow down

In Pilton yard, through mist espied, stands Exe out-shopped and dapper

By glassy Yeo, still at our side, we pass a halt called Snapper


Wobble, wooble, wobble tug, our loco has willpower

Commotion in motion, tenacious pug, diminutive steam power

She toots of Newnes, philanthropist, upon whose tall creation…

Of arches spanning a lake of mist we climb to Chelfham station


Our train now comes to rest

Above the dew, beneath a sky of pastel blue

Lew’s driver hands the tablet to leafy Chelfham’s porter

And I gaze through the glass, watch the Up train pass

On this amber Autumn day, in this shady sylvan quarter

Where the telegraph dings like a tapped wine glass

Where white scud and grey eddy enrobe the trees

And a robin sings, my ears, to please


How sweet this little line to Lynton


I lower the window glass

From upholstered nook, I lean outside, and take a look

The Up train’s green and yellow carriages are really quite replete

With their handles and vents, they maintain a pretence

And mimic their larger cousins with whom they frequently meet

So conceived to be roomy that, in consequence

They overhang each rail by a foot or two

And inner expanse, thereby, accrue


Dapple, dapple, let’s dapple the light, the whispering trees all say

Where Lew must grapple with all her might, to get us under way

Forever climbing, never straight, this footpath made of steel

Is not for feet, but footplate, greased axle-box, and wheel


Bratton Fleming awakens

At sibilant Lew, admirers gaze, as admirers do

They point to her tongues of flame, wince and plug their ears

For with pressure increased in this iron beast

Her safety valve blows and its serrated rasp is all one hears

Candy-floss steam is licked by a sun aflame in the east

While departure sends acrobatic wisps cart-wheeling by

Then makes dark, with sackcloth, the sky


Percuss, percuss, the bogies discuss Wistlandpound’s emerald clime

“More fun, this run, than any bus” they argue their case in rhyme

And every sight, with eyes agog, must I be sure to observe

Lest a friendly nudge, or cajoling jog, be aimed at my reserve


Expansive Blackmoor station

Where couplings chink as our loco halts to take a drink

Where the station house is a chalet of homely air

At its side abiding, a coach in a siding

Oh, if quintessential England exists, my friend, this is where

Along with all the verdant scape of the line I’m riding

A lower quadrant semaphore nods at our train

With the “right away” we’re off, again


Wiffle, waffle, piffle and prance, Lew scoffs at a downward mile

Her sniffle and skiffle makes the carriages dance, life is easy for a while

But another climb begins to loom, and Lew’s skiffle rods become…

A marching band through Parracombe, of gryating mace and drum


At Woody Bay we pause

Upon the crest, a station higher than all the rest

For Southern Green was never painted in a loftier place than this

Nor a quieter one, where trains still run

No junction, as planned, and no village amid this rural bliss

“Alight here for a doze, to sigh, and get nothing done”

Yet so much to view beyond these narrow gauge rails

The Bristol Channel, craggy cliffs, and Wales


Snaking and shaking, judiciously braking, to Lynton our train now descends

It scurries, it hurries, it sets the ground quaking, convinced that the line never ends

But Caffyns halt, perched high on the moor, warns that there’s not far to go

From a hillside ledge with views galore, I gaze at the Lyn gorge below


Ahead, the buffer stops

A judder speaks, it shakes my hand, and kisses my cheeks

Bidding goodbye like a jolly aunt with whom I must sadly part

I vacate my seat and take to my feet

For in Lynton now is a soul with a glowing heart

Whose port-hole eyes are bright with orange heat

It is journey’s end, but I am not sad, as I sit on a churn

Because my ticket reads, in bold type: “RETURN”

A poem written by:


Royal Train: The Record Dash of the "City of Bath"

Did you see the Express Royal

Burdened with its precious load?

Did you hear the distant roaring

As she dashed along the road?

Well may Pressmen do it honour

Sing its praises far and wide

‘Tis a record which I’m thinking

Long a record will abide


But whilst voicing loud this triumph

Think of “Driver Burden” who

Has placed us in the vanguard

Shown the world what we can do

He who stood with hand on lever

Peering through the engine’s eye

And his gallant mate who fired her

Kept up steam to make her fly


Graceful, ready for the fray

There she stood in yonder bay

Guard had scarce his whistle sounded

Than from Paddington she bounded

With good wishes from the throng

Starting thus her journey long

Louder grew her quick’ning stroke

Nigh enveloped in her smoke


Down through Ealing, Southall, Hayes

She her speed began to raise

And now got her swing by now

Crashing ‘neath the bridge at Slough

On through Taplow, running fine

She was well within her time

Signals off for miles ahead

Dashing now through Maidenhead


On went Burden, nothing dreading

Till with lightening flash through Reading

She at last for Didcot made

Flew through there at just a shade…

Over seventy miles an hour

Followed by a gravel shower

Paper and exhausted steam

Every platform sweeping clean


On still on, she bore us down

Till we sighted Swindon Town

At whose usual platform crowd

Burden whistled long and loud

She indeed was running hard

As we passed that busy yard

Joyful here her builders stood

Give a cheer, the best they could


Of the run they caught a sight

Viewed with pride, as well they might

Hardly had we heard their cheer

Than we were of Rushey clear

Still at this torrential speed

Onward dashed this iron steed

Till you scarce could see her crank

As she flew down Dauntsey bank


Full steam on through Chippenham

Driver Burden made her hum

Peering ever through her eye

Soon to Corsham said good-bye

By his side stood an Inspector

Woe then to the man who checked her!

Thus she swept along her path

Through Box Tunnel, down to Bath


When we’d passed those ancient piles

She had averaged seventy miles

Seeming bent on record-breaking

Fast was now for Bristol making

And was doing all she could

As she plunged through Fox’s Wood

Snatching water from the troughs

Roaring through St Anne’s she goes


Then with sharp but mighty swoop

Missing Bristol, clears the loop

Now once more upon the main

Onward ploughed the Royal train

Shutting thus old Bristol out

“Long the Western’s beauteous route

Pouring volumes from her funnel

She is lost in Bourton tunnel


Nigh half-hour before her time

Out she shoots at seventy-nine

Passing Weston on the right

Soon of it was out of sight

Then for thirty miles or more

Running now at eighty-four

So terrific was the rate

That I could not calculate


What the speed was when she flew

Down through Taunton, this I knew

It was growing whilst we dashed

‘Tween those station platforms crashed

Burden now a name had won her

On he forced that hundred tonner

‘Neath a scorching noon-day sun

Heading now for Wellington


Where the farmer looked aghast

Stood erect as we flew past

Fixed his gaze and shook his head

Waved his hat, thus good-bye said

Wished his father was alive

To have seen this mighty dive

But I must not stay my pen

Tell I must what happened then


With what speed she climbed the bank

How for twenty miles she sank

Until like some hunted boar

Down through Exeter she tore

Past its old Cathedral tower

Still at seventy miles an hour

Though you scarce could feel her rock

As we eyed that station clock

Not a joint or bolt was slack

‘Long that grand unequalled track

Nor was there the slightest jolt

When like some fierce thunderbolt

She dashed on still on, pell-mell

Swift through many a flowery dell

Where the rabbit, filled with dread

Scared by her, for safety fled


Rattling now through wood and glen

Loud awaking echoes, then

Out to catch the distant view

Of the Channel, on she flew

Swinging now six miles or more

Gliding swift along its shore

Where the children on the sands

Shouting loudly, clapped their hands


Then as though she’d caught the breeze

Leaving Dawlish in the trees

On, yet on and on she rushed

Down through Newton Abbot brushed

Miles they still as quarters seemed

As she now through Devon steamed

Now fast adding to her wake

Shorter thus my song to make


I must rest myself content

When I’ve told how on through Brent

She swept round each narrow ridge

That abound near Ivybridge

Crashing, dashing, till at last

Plympton she in safety passed

How with nigh an hour in hand

Burden brought her to a stand


Having thus her freightage hurled

East to West and beat the World

Midst cheers as well you know

‘Neath the shade of Plymouth Hoe

A poem written by:


Overture to a Dance of Locomotives

Fierce-throated beauty !
Roll though my chant with all thy lawless music, thy swinging lamps at night,
Thy madly-whistled laughter, echoing, rumbling like an earthquake, rousing all,
Law of thyself complete, thine own track firmly holding,
(No sweetness debonair of tearful harp or glib piano thine,)
Thy trills of shrieks by rocks and hills return'd,
Launch'd o'er the prairies wide, across the lakes,
To the free skies unpent and glad and strong.

Men with picked voices chant the names
of cities in a huge gallery: promises
that pull through descending stairways
to a deep rumbling.

    The rubbing feet
of those coming to be carried quicken a
grey pavement into soft light that rocks
to and fro, under the domed ceiling,
across and across from pale
earthcolored walls of bare limestone.

Covertly the hands of a great clock
go round and round! Were they to
move quickly and at once the whole
secret would be out and the shuffling
of all ants be done forever.

A leaning pyramid of sunlight, narrowing
out at a high window, moves by the clock;
discordant hands straining out from
a center: inevitable postures infinitely


Porters in red hats run on narrow platforms.

This way ma'am!
    --important not to take
the wrong train!

    Lights from the concrete
ceiling hang crooked but--
    Poised horizontal
on glittering parallels the dingy cylinders
packed with a warm glow--inviting entry--
pull against the hour. But brakes can
hold a fixed posture till--
    The whistle!

Not twoeight. Not twofour. Two!

Gliding windows. Colored cooks sweating
in a small kitchen. Taillights--
In time: twofour!
In time: twoeight!

--rivers are tunneled; trestles
cross oozy swampland: wheels repeating
the same gesture remain relatively
stationary: rails forever parallel
return on themselves infinitely.
    The dance is sure.

A poem written by:


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