Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Night Express

The Night Express, Kenneth Slessor, 1933

Out of the night, immense and shrill
It comes with cloudy fire
To curse a girl at Bogan's Hill
With torments of desire.
A string of golden window-lights,
A rope of flame - they're gone.
Over the windy mountain-heights,
The night express flies on.

Drowned in the silent loneliness,
The lantern's ruby dies.
A girl looks at the night express
With bright and wistful eyes.
The night-express, with panther grace,
On reaching Bogan's Hill,
Shows its opinion of the place
By going faster still.

O, to be on the night express
O, to be there some day.
Miles to go with a port-mant-eau
And a ticket for far away!

The Pullman cars are full of light,
And lurching corridors,
And swagmen huddled out of sight,
And cigarettes and snores,
The atmosphere you find on trains,
And fat men playing cards,
And tumbling jugs and rattling panes
And honeymoons and guards.

The engine roars, the whistle cries,
The echoes follow shrill,
A girl sits on her berth, and sighs,
And stares at Bogan's Hill.
Pulling the window blind, she sees
A moment into space -
A shed, a flash of moonlit trees,
Some milk tins and a face.

And, O, to be in Bogan's Hill,
O, to be there some day,
Cows and peace - release, release,
And the night-express far away!

I couldn't find this poem, which is one of my favourites, on the web anywhere, so here it is.

Somewhere out there must be the equivalent poem for our times, with a girl looking up at a contrail and another looking down at a farm nestled in the bush.


Lexifab said...

You do realise, don't you, that if there is such an equivalent, it is probably going to be in the body of work of someone like Lady Gaga or some agglomeration of hip hop performers?

Poets are not, for the most part, poets any more.

Not a bad little piece though. I have a preference for grandiosity in my poetry, preferably studded! with inexplicable exclamation marks. ("Ozymandius! King of kings!", to bring in a not-unrelated example).

Dr Clam said...

I think that country music is likely to be the last bastion of the poets - I will do an exhaustive search of the oeuvre of Taylor Swift when I get home to see if it is there...

Lexifab said...

I would caution against it, but I daresay it's too late.

Marco said...

I have a missing gene. I need poetry explained to me, otherwise I don't understand it, let alone enjoy it.


Dr Clam said...

Question 3: Explain Kenneth Slessor's poem "The Night Express" (5 marks)

In most places and for most people, if you live in the country, you long to be off in the big exciting city where things are not deathly dull; and if you live in the city, you long to escape the rat race and be off in the country where there is peace and beauty. This poem expresses these two longings using the image of a train hurtling through the countryside, with one young woman looking at it and one looking from it, both wishing they were somewhere else.

The specifically Australian aspects of the poem and the particular fact that my house can be seen clearly from a line that in the 1930s probably carried a Sydney/Brisbane overnight passenger train makes my poetry gene respond strongly to it.