Poets and trains go well together – one need only think of Edward Thomas’s ‘Adlestrop’ or Philp Larkin’s ‘The Whitsun Weddings’. Certainly I have found that in the right circumstances, which do not include sharing the train with several hundred Welsh rugby fans on their way home from a victory in Cardiff, it is a form of transport can induce a kind of dreamy tranquillity, liberating the mind from its usual cares and constraints. I remember well my first journey by train when I was nine and we went away for my childhood’s one and only holiday, my grandmother having conveniently died and left a small legacy. I spent the whole time in a trance of delight as the English countryside unrolled beside me with its fields and woods, its placid rivers, its swooping or soaring skyline, furthering in me an already latent love that was almost painful. In this piece the Australian poet Judith Wright celebrates one such visionary glimpse of her own countryside, different and much harsher than mine, yet equally one of which she could say that it ‘built my heart’: how well I understand that passionate identification with a landscape.
Glassed with cold sleep and dazzled by the moon,
out of the confused hammering dark of the train
I looked and saw under the moon’s cold sheet
your delicate dry breasts, country that built my heart;
and the small trees on their uncoloured slope
like poetry moved, articulate and sharp
and purposeful under the great dry flight of air,
under the crosswise currents of wind and star.
Clench down your strength, box-tree and ironbark.
Break with your violent root the virgin rock.
Draw from the flying dark its breath of dew
till the unliving come to life in you.
Be over the blind rock a skin of sense,
under the barren height a slender dance…
I woke and saw the dark small trees that burn
suddenly into flowers more lovely that the white moon.