Guest poem sent in by Bob Swallow
(Poem #1281) 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-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 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 sea lochs Men long for news. Letters of thanks, letters from banks, Letters of joy from the girl and the 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 of friendly tea beside the band at Cranston's or Crawford's: Asleep in working Glasgow, asleep in well-set Edinburgh, Asleep in granite Aberdeen, They continue their dreams, And shall wake soon and long for letters, And none will hear the postman's knock Without a quickening of the heart, For who can bear to feel himself forgotten?
When I need the text of a poem or indeed to check any poetic reference I generally turn first to "Wondering Minstrels". The other day I needed a copy of "From a Railway Carriage" by R. L. Stevenson. It was for a music lesson where strong rhythms were being illustrated under the theme of trains. And that poem of course was the obvious choice. Naturally I found it on this wonderful site but was rather surprised to find that another 'railway' poem Was not in your list. This poem "Night Mail" was written by W. H. Auden for a film advertisement for "British Rail". The rhythms and rhymes are wonderfully evocative of the railways in the steam age and bring back to me memories Of railway journeys on which my sisters and I worked out phrases to fit the rhythms we could hear as the wheels clicked over the joins. I offer this for the collection partly because it has so many memories for me and partly to ensure that it is Available when I next need to use it. Bob