Poems on the Theme of Trains; Memoirs & Poems about Train Journeys, The Flying Scotsman, Mallard
Are you a Fan of Trains?
Do you like travelling by train? Do you enjoy the freedom it affords you? Do you depend on its routine? Perhaps you’d rather take the car and sit in traffic jams and be late for appointments. There are constant complaints in Britain that the trains never run on time. They’re not the best in the world at keeping to schedule but, for the main, they do get us from A to B within our expected arrival times.
There are many lines which were axed, starting in 1963, by Dr Beeching, a physicist and engineer who wrote a rather short-sighted report causing our well-linked system of railways to fall apart and serve far fewer people. However, some of those lines have been taken over by volunteer organisations who have pulled them back together, refurbished the lines, the engines and the carriages and now provide some of the best leisure routes we have. Much of those include steam trains, such as the Bluebell Line in Sussex, the West Somerset Railway from Taunton to Minehead, the East Somerset Railway and many more.
Grand Old Engine
Rhythm, Speed & Delay!
A train journey has a rhythm. You begin gently, pick up speed, go clickety-clack, skim the rails, then reverse all that until you imperceptibly regain a state of inertia. Train travel reflects the rhythm of life, the changes of pace, the highs and lows. It gives us a glimpse of the open fields, then plunges into a forest of trees; or takes us into rarified air before throwing us into a tunnel of ear-splitting fear. Then the lights go off, there’s a collective intake of breath, before the tunnel ends and all shoulders are released.
Waiting at a station is not such fun. Maybe you’re waiting for a train to take you to a meeting; it’s late and it’s cold and you wish you’d accepted that lift even though it was from someone whose driving scared you stiff.
Maybe you’re waiting to meet someone. The wrong sort of leaves are on the line and there’s been a delay. The worst of waiting is when you’re on your own. You look around at others on the platform; all of a sudden they become sinister, full of bad intentions, scheming against you or planning to rob or worse. If it’s raining or dark, that is. If it’s sunny then everyone’s your friend. Strange how our minds work.
The following was written whilst waiting for my love to arrive by train.
Another Week Awaits
(referring to memories of taking the train back to college)
at the station
up and down
the platform go
those migrant bodies,
p’rhaps back to studies,
or to weekly work away,
missing family every day,
or returning to their homes.
Break is over, check the phones,
messages to meet at 9,
that is, if the train’s on time!
Ann Carr (early 1970s)
Your Train's Late
doesn’t bother ‘em.
Never mind me in the cold,
getting hungry, growing old.
Wanted to see you soon as poss’,
now you may be tired and cross.
Should’ve waited by the phone
but then you’d be on your own
at the station, so I thought,
but instead it’s me who’s caught.
Yet more time waiting to see
your blue eyes looking at me,
waiting for your warm embrace,
your soft kisses on my face,
your strong voice to say ‘gudday!’
I’m so glad you’re not far away.
At least I know that soon we’ll be
together again, you close to me.
Ann Carr (late 1990s)
Clayton Tunnel on the way to School - noisy!
Taking the Train to School
I recall a poem from my childhood; I used to go to school by train and part of the track rattled through a tunnel under the South Downs. This poem, by Robert Louis Stevenson, makes me relive the rhythm, the noise and the excitement of the whole journey.
I’ve loved train journeys ever since. They provide such scenes over the countryside, parts you don’t see any other way unless you walk endlessly over hill and dale. You can get up and walk the length of the train if you wish, you can look out of either side or your carriage, you can even walk along to a restaurant car and have a meal. ‘Let the train take the strain’ used to be a British Rail advert and it’s a great idea. No driving, no traffic jams, mostly on time and a comfortable ride with free countrywide tours. Snap-shots of life are on offer, changes of weather affect your vista and moments of mystery can set your mind following an altogether different path!
Here is the poem:
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 here is the green for stringing the daisies!
Here is a cart runaway in the road
Lumping along with man and load;
And here is a mill, and there is a river:
Each a glimpse and gone forever!
Robert Louis Stevenson
About the Flying Scotsman
The Flying Scotsman first made its journey in 1862, on the East Coast Main Line. It operated from London Kings Cross and Edinburgh Waverley. Since then it has seen changes of railway owners and names. In 2016, having been totally restored, the magnificent engine pulled a distinguished passenger list of privileged people from London to York; my sister and her grandson were amongst them!
Steam Train from Scotland
Another train journey I took many years ago was one from Fife in Scotland to Kings Cross, London. I was 13. I’d never been on such a long rail trip before, certainly not one fired by a steam train. I remember going through Durham and seeing the cathedral in all its dark red stone. I remember the change of scenery from north to south, the change of house stone, of soil and architecture.
What about the steam engine’s view? Steam train travel is something I’m privileged to have experienced before they all became private concerns on purchased previous lines, run by volunteers. The famous Flying Scotsman had a personality of its own, as did all those majestic engines with names like Sir William Hyde, Black Knight, Mallard.
The Flying Scotsman & Mallard
The Flying Scotsman (Journey to London)
Holiday in Scotland,
aunt was ill;
all went home
but me, until
she was better,
then with me,
The Flying Scotsman
fared us well,
clattered and steamed
by tor and dell.
saw us pass,
cathedral deep red stone,
O’er bridge and river,
clouds of steam
finally into Kings Cross,
majestic in its livery fine,
safely delivered passengers sigh,
having to leave this historic line
of iron horse slowing to rest.. kissing bumpers.. exhaling breath.. to sleep,
A final wisp of steam remembers home, awaits tomorrow’s return.
Ann Carr 2017
Thomas the Tank Engine
Then Thomas the Tank Engine came to the Avon Valley Railway near Bristol. The enchanted looks on the children’s faces made the day. The journey was only a few miles there and back but flags were flown, faces were painted and sandwiches were bought and consumed, followed by ice cream at the platform café on our return.
The books by Reverend Awdry were adapted for television when I was young. I loved the adventures of Thomas and his friends on the Island of Sodor and even now they appeal to children from 2 to 99.
Thomas - a Really Useful EngineClick thumbnail to view full-size
To this day, I love travelling by train, be it steam powered, diesel or electric. I've experienced the French TGV (Train de grande vitesse - high speed train), from St Pancras, London to Gare du Nord, Paris, as well as from St Pancras to Lille. It's FAST!!
I would love to be a passenger on some of the trans-continental locomotives, such as in Australia and the USA. Often, they alone have access to mountains, tunnels and bridges in remote areas. To be able to watch magnificent scenery go by, have glimpses of countryside one can't drive through and enjoy the luxury of letting someone else do the work, what a dream!
Let me know about any train journeys you've been on, whether in childhood or later, whether good or bad, in the comments below. In the meantime, happy travelling!
Copyright annart/AFC 2017