“Night Mail” by W. H. Auden and “From a Railway Carriage” by Robert Louis Stevenson

: Publicity poster original artwork for the documentary film Night Mail by the GPO Film Unit
Date 1936, Public Domain

“It’s not that we have to quit this life one day, but it’s how many things we have to quit all at once: music, laughter, the physics of falling leaves, automobiles, holding hands, the scent of rain, the concept of subway trains… if only one could leave this life slowly!” Roman Payne, Rooftop Soliloquy

I love trains but it isn’t the love of trains that inspired this post. The current United States Post Office debacle made me think of Auden’s Night Mail, which made me think of Stevenson’s From a Railway Carriage. These two are my fave railway poems.  I suppose I should write one myself one of these days.  We’ll see … Meanwhile, enjoy these  …

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, 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 bushes at her blank-faced 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 a bedroom gently shakes.

Dawn freshens, Her climb is done.
Down towards Glasgow she descends,
Towards the steam tugs yelping down a glade of cranes
Towards the fields of apparatus, the furnaces
Set on the dark plain like gigantic chessmen.
All Scotland waits for her:
In dark glens, beside 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 to 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 on the margin,
Letters from uncles, cousins, and aunts,
Letters to Scotland from the South of France,
Letters of condolence to Highlands and Lowlands
Written on paper of every hue,
The pink, the violet, the white and the blue,
The chatty, the catty, the boring, the 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 of friendly tea beside the band in Cranston’s or Crawford’s:

Asleep in working Glasgow, asleep in well-set Edinburgh,
Asleep in granite Aberdeen,
They continue their dreams,
But shall wake soon and hope for letters,
And none will hear the postman’s knock
Without a quickening of the heart,
For who can bear to feel himself forgotten?

– W. H. Auden

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 gazes;
And there is the green for stringing the 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!

– Robert Louis Stevenson

Jamie Dedes:

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Poetry rocks the world!

“Every pair of eyes facing you has probably experienced something you could not endure.”  Lucille Clifton

The Voice of the Poet, an audio series from Random House


To hear a poem spoken in the voice of the person who wrote it is not only to witness the rising of words off the page and into the air, but to experience an aural reenactment of exactly what the poet must have heard, if only internally, during the act of composition. “ Billy Collins (b. 1941), U.S. Poet Laureate

The Voice of the Poet series was developed in 2005 by Random House. We only just discovered it and since I am enamoured of Auden’s work and am focusing on him right now, we picked up that one. However, this audio series includes other notable poets such as Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Lowell, Frank O’Hara, and a collection of five women poets: Gertrude Stein, Edna St. Vincent Millay, H.D., Louise Bogan and Muriel Ruckeyser.  Each set  includes a CD of poetry readings collected from a variety of sources and occasions and a small book with the texts of the poems and a brief commentary by J.D. McClatchy, a poet, literary critic and an editor of the Yale Review. I completely enjoyed the Auden collection, recommend it if you are an Auden fan, and am moving on to get whatever others in the series can still be found.  I would have written something else for today, but I just couldn’t pull myself away from this. It’s the sort of thing you enjoy and value if poetry – or a specific poet – is central in your life.

* * * *

“Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun.”

The day would not be complete without a poem. Here’s Funeral Blues, one of Auden’s more well-known poems  . . .

Video uploaded to YouTube by Reifgar

. . . and thus we begin another week . . .