A Local Train of Thought

There’s a comfort in routines and familiar sounds. Some towns have a noon whistle. If you’ve lived near a school or a factory you’ll know a routine. If you’re close to a children’s playground you can tell the time of day as it fills up with voices when school gets out.  My childhood had the Swindon railway works steam hooters to help mark the passage of time. Here’s Siegfried Sassoon working late at night and hearing the routine of the one-fifty train in the valley. 

A Local Train of Thought

by Siegfried Sassoon

Alone, in silence, at a certain time of night,
Listening, and looking up from what I’m trying to write,
I hear a local train along the Valley.  And “There
Goes the one-fifty,” think I to myself; aware
That somehow its habitual travelling comforts me,
Making my world seem safer, homelier, sure to be
The same to-morrow; and the same, one hopes, next year.
“There’s peacetime in that train.”  One hears it disappear
With needless warning whistle and rail-resounding wheels.
“That train’s quite like an old familiar friend,” one feels.

Siegfried Sassoon, Rhymed Ruminations (1940).

The artist  Claughton Pellew was born in Cornwall but he settled in Overstrand and then Southrepps, north Norfolk. He was a conscientious objector in the first world war and was imprisoned for two years as a result. Here the night train steams ahead while the shepherd and his flock seem undisturbed in the foreground.

Claughton Pellew: The Train 1920. Also called The Embankment at Night.

“Train going over a bridge at night” is by Eric Ravilious 1935.

Train going over a bridge at night Eric Ravilious 1935.

Featured image: Train Linocut of a Gresley A4 by Helen Ingham

3 Comments

  1. Gunther Bauer:

    I have always loved the sound of trains in the night. Thank you so much for this poem. When that lonesome whistle blows …. But also the marking of the passage of time. I can just see Sassoon at his desk late at night.

  2. I’m reminded of Edna St Vincent’s poem on trains (“Travel”)– its last lines have always been some of my favorites:
    My heart is warm with the friends I make,
    And better friends I’ll not be knowing;
    Yet there isn’t a train I wouldn’t take,
    No matter where it’s going.

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