Tracks and Taverns

To help celebrate the roll out of “Tracks and Taverns” at American Public House Review we’ve posted this hauntingly beautiful poem by Lieut. John Pierre Roche from his book Rimes in Olive Drab. The piece was written during the First World War and it perfectly captures the emotions and insights of a soldier as he reflects on the passing of trains that carry young warriors toward their ports of embarkation – and an uncertain destiny on the battlefields of France.    




Over thousands of miles
Of shining steel rails,
Past green and red semaphores
And unheeding flagmen,
Trains are running,
Trains, trains, trains.

Rattling through tunnels
And clicking by way stations,
Curving through hills, past timber,
Out into the open places,
Flashing past silos and barns
And whole villages,
Until finally they echo
Against the squat factories
That line the approach to the cities.

Trains, trains, trains
With the fire boxes wide open,
Giant Moguls and old-time Baldwins
And oil–burners on the Southern Pacific,
Fire boxes wide open
Flaring against the night,
Like a tremendous watch fire

Where the sentries cluster at their post.
Trains, trains, trains
Serpentine strings of cars
Loaded with boys and men–
The legion of the ten-year span
To whom has been given the task
Of seeking the Great Adventure.

Swaying through the North and South,
And East and West,
Freighted with the Willing
And the Unwilling;
Packed with the Thinking
And the Unthinking,
Pushing on to the Unknown
Away from the shelter and security
Of the accustomed into the Great Adventure.

Trains, trains, trains
With their coach sides scrawled
With chalked bravado and, sometimes,
With their windows black
With yelling boys,
In open-mouthed exultation
That they do not feel,
Rushing farther and farther
From the known into the unseeable.

Trains, trains, trains
With sky–larking boys in khaki,
Munching sandwiches and drinking pop;
Or, tired and without their depot swagger,
Curled up on the red-plush seats;
Or asleep, with a stranger, in the Pullmans.

They rush past our camp,
Which lies against the railroad
With the crossing alarm jangling
And fade into the dust or night.
Leaving us to conjecture where,
As they have left others to wonder–
As they must wonder themselves
When they are done
With the shouting and hand-shaking
And kissing and hat-waving and singing.

Trains, trains, trains
Clicking on into unforecast days–
Away from the shelter and security
Of the accustomed into the Great Adventure.



Posted by: Chris Poh, Publisher



Published in: Uncategorized on September 4, 2008 at 5:00 pm  Comments (1)  
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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. You’ll find me in the bar car. As for my taste cue up the Gordon Lightfoot Canadian Railroad Trilogy. Sorry about the aborted Minnesota Bar stories boys. See you at the Inn!

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