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Trains in Poetry With a Poem: My Thoughts About Railways

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Tim Truzy is a poet, short-story author, and he is currently working on several novels.

A modern diesel locomotive

A modern diesel locomotive

Let’s Take a Train to our Childhood!

Trains have always been a subject of different genres – from the classic ballads to sci-fi movies – we take rides to far flung places where reality and fantasy become blurry and exciting. Some of our greatest adventures with these mechanical marvels begin at home. I recall receiving a small train for Christmas as a ten year old boy, laying the tracks across my bedroom, sending action figures on the train to save whatever imagined dangers the world was facing. I was ecstatic, peeping through the plastic tunnels and running my fingers over the synthetic hills. I bounced in glee, sending my train rumbling on its circular route. I cheered as the tiny horn signaled our next stop: the Arctic Circle, Australia, or even the Caribbean. It didn’t matter about the geographical difficulties; my train was magic to me.

As an adult, the enchantment with trains continued. I’ve rode the subways of Chicago and New York City, enjoying the rattling cars and the hurrying shuffling people. I glided on the subway in Washington, D.C., wondering if some political figure may be stepping onboard to save America from whatever perils we were facing. But my favorite train ride was boarding the Amtrak down to Savannah, Georgia and returning home. Yet, riding the subway in Atlanta left a burning fire in my soul to write a poem about the great “iron horses,” or trains.

Talking with some of the passengers and the conductors on those trips inspired this poem. If you enjoy this poem, please leave comments. Thank you for reading: “My Train of Thoughts.”

An antique steam locomotive

An antique steam locomotive

My Train of Thoughts

Agent promised boundless routes with this trip,

Inquired agent ticket to good Heaven,

“Maps intersect mountains and troughs all in between,”

He scolded, “Train last left at nine-eleven.”


My motion first flung me against the rails,

Wheels whipping metal rocky road shifting beat,

Roaring rumbling rapid speed excels,

Steam singing smoke riveted my seat.


Heavy burden light heart left far behind,

Signal me southern city you I know,

My love empty tracks embrace me lonely,

Cargo of passengers more towns to go.


Swamps sway by trees thumbing me good-bye,

Horn bellows jazzy jumping solo tune,

These tracks touch bridges broken and bloody,

Railways forged from men mourning still their tombs.

An 1850s railroad trestle

An 1850s railroad trestle

She said, “Souls sleep in the ties, dear young man.”

I said, “In rest they find their cold vengeance.”

She smiled, “Metal and steel plain written.”

I said, “Their ghosts scroll a moving sentence.”


Boxers beside me growled with the box cars,

Teaching the conductor about the coach,

Tankers spilled chemicals into my eyes,

My tears in dining car flavored my roast.


Lines of stories towering to somewhere,

Spirits isolated on bench exhale,

Lines of glory powering overpass,

Spirits freed by combustion lonesome smell.


I know not the morning transport fleeing,

I care not what depot engine ceases,

I see not the darkest of the day time,

Locomotive rock my troubles to pieces.


Leave the hoboes along the no place rails,

Attach wings to their plight to surely fly,

Give them a ship to elsewhere to sail,

Bring birth from journey railroad won’t let die.

A collection of old railroad cars rust away

A collection of old railroad cars rust away

Five Songs Featuring Trains

Without question, trains have inspired creativity in literature and music. We have all enjoyed some of these books and tunes, crossing various genres and all classes of people. Perhaps, trains make us want to sing and write poetry. Maybe that’s why stories and songs from different backgrounds reach all of society. Trains have a universal rhythm and message for all of us.

Indeed, I’ve put together a few such songs below and gave a little information about each. Notice: all of these songs come from different musical traditions in America. This is because it would be impossible to tell the complete story of the United States without trains. These songs explore loneliness, love, exploration, and excitement. These are by no means all of the songs about trains I could think of for this article. That list would be enormous, requiring a book to fill. However, enjoy this mere sample of tunes, most of which can be found on the internet to listen to:

  • Take the A-Train – A standard in many jazz bands, this pop piece was the signature for the Duke Ellington orchestra since first recorded in 1941. It was composed by Ellington’s pianist, Billy Strayhorn, and it has been performed and recorded by various artists. The topic of the song is the New York train system.
  • The City of New Orleans – Arlo Guthrie tells the story of the day in the life of a train in this 1972 recording. He tells the tale from the vantage point of the train which is called: The City of New Orleans. A variety of artists have also recorded this classic folk tune.
  • The Gambler – In 1978, this was one of the biggest country music hits. The artist Kenny Rogers sings about an incident in which the character in the song encounters a gambler aboard a train. The gambler provides memorable advice which seems to flow with the rhythm of the imagined train. The song was popular enough to inspire movies featuring Kenny Rogers.
  • Midnight Train to Georgia – A lady plans to join her lover aboard a train to Georgia after he failed to become successful in this classic song by Gladys Knight and the Pips. Released on a 1973 album, the rhythm and blues tune has so=smooth harmonies and catchy lyrics. Gladys Knight and the Pips created a beautiful love story featuring dedication and the power of trains.
  • Ballad of Casey Jones – This folk song tells the story of a train engineer who crashes his train in Mississippi in 1900; he was trying to rush because his train was running behind schedule. It was written by William Saunders, a fellow railroad worker, who never received payment for the song. The song was published by T. Lawrence Seibert and Eddie Newton in 1902.
A freight train leaves a major hub

A freight train leaves a major hub

This style of railroad depot is typically found in the Southeast United States

This style of railroad depot is typically found in the Southeast United States

Symbolism and Facts about Trains and the Railways

Trains and the railways may play an essential part of many literary, poetic and cinematic works. Trains are featured as mechanical marvels where the story takes place, individuals gather, or the train itself could be the main point of the work. In addition, railways serve as images of movement, lonesome feelings, or future opportunities awaiting characters. For example, American Wild West novels usually feature an event involving trains with bandits and the law competing. Indeed, folk heroes, such as John Henry, arose out of early construction of railroads. I’ve included a link below to the classic ballad of John Henry.

Nevertheless, The Harry Potter novels by J. K. Rowland would not be complete without the fabulous fictional train that the characters use for transportation. Agatha Christie’s phenomenal Murder on the Orient Express requires a train for a unique plot which still fascinates readers. Yet, below in the final section are some facts about trains and the railroads in the real world which may interest you. Enjoy.

  • The word train derives from a French verb meaning “to drag.” Horse power, electricity, diesel, and steam have all been utilized as power sources for trains. The first working steam engine was produced in England in 1804 for pulling vehicles. Also, the first electric train engine was made in Scotland in 1837. The four time zones in the continental United States became standardized as a result of improvements in train transportation.
  • However, the longest train trip can be traveled in nearly two weeks from Portugal to Vietnam at over ten thousand miles. Incidentally, railways were first made of wood and stone in early civilizations beginning around the 6th-century in Greece. Commuter trains are lighter than other trains but carry more passengers. Today, the heaviest train weighs nearly as much as thirty elephants. The fastest trains currently can be found in China and Japan. They are maglev trains.

References

Ambrose, S. E. (2005). Nothing like it in the world: The men who built the transcontinental railroad, 1863-1869. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Solomon, B. (2020). Rails around the world: Two centuries of trains and locomotives. Beverly, MA: Motorbooks, imprint of The Quarto Group.

Wolmar, C. (2013). The great railroad revolution: The history of trains in America. New York: PublicAffairs.

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