Guest poem submitted by Bill Whiteford:
(Poem #1888) Who is in Charge of the Clattering Train?
Who is in charge of the clattering train? The axles creak and the couplings strain, And the pace is hot, and the points are near, And Sleep has deadened the driver's ear; And the signals flash through the night in vain, For Death is in charge of the clattering train.
I don't know the title (though I would guess it's the whole first line). It appears to be anonymously written. You may have heard the Churchill character quoting this verse in the TV drama "The Gathering Storm". It was apparently one of Winston's favourites, having been committed to memory by him from the pages of Punch when he was about nine. I quite like the train-like rhythm of the lines, and the way the poem crashes into the last line. It is, of course, a kind of Victorian melodrama in six lines. The whole thing sometimes springs to mind when, at work, colleagues phone up and ask who is in charge. Bill Whiteford. [Thomas adds] Project Gutenberg reveals that today's poem forms merely an extract -- the first two and last four lines -- of a much longer poem titled "Death and His Brother Sleep", which appeared in Volume 99 of Punch magazine, published October 4, 1890. The poem was attributed to "Queen Mab", and was written in response to a rail accident at Eastleigh; it appeared in Punch prefaced by the following lines: Major Marindin, in his Report to the Board of Trade on the railway collision at Eastleigh, attributes it to the engine-driver and stoker having "failed to keep a proper look-out." His opinion is, that both men were "asleep, or nearly so," owing to having been on duty for sixteen hours and a-half. "He expresses himself in very strong terms on the great danger to the public of working engine-drivers and firemen for too great a number of hours." -- Daily Chronicle "Queen Mab" is also the title of a poem by Shelley, which begins: How wonderful is Death, Death, and his brother Sleep! One, pale as yonder waning moon With lips of lurid blue; The other, rosy as the morn When throned on ocean's wave It blushes o'er the world; Yet both so passing wonderful! Clearly today's poet took both title and pseudonym from Shelley's earlier work. The full text of "Death and His Brother Sleep" can be found here: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/12306/12306-h/12306-h.htm (HTML) http://www.gutenberg.org/files/12306/12306.txt (plain text) http://www.gutenberg.org/files/12306/12306-h/images/163.png (pic) It's interesting to note how the emphasis of the two pieces -- the lengthy Punch original, and today's pithier (I'm tempted to say "punchier") extract -- is completely different. Speaking for myself, I much prefer the short version, but readers are encouraged to read them both and make up their own minds. Thomas.