I love trains. I love their whistles, the sound of their wheels on the tracks from miles away – and I love to travel on them. (Can train travel be a hobby?) As I was struggling to decide which Whitman to share in this post-holiday limbo, I heard a train whistle – so here is a gift for you on this last Monday of 2020. From Leaves of Grass, courtesy of Project Gutenberg:
To a Locomotive in Winter
Thee for my recitative, Thee in the driving storm even as now, the snow, the winter-day declining, Thee in thy panoply, thy measur’d dual throbbing and thy beat convulsive, Thy black cylindric body, golden brass and silvery steel, Thy ponderous side-bars, parallel and connecting rods, gyrating, shuttling at thy sides, Thy metrical, now swelling pant and roar, now tapering in the distance, Thy great protruding head-light fix’d in front, Thy long, pale, floating vapor-pennants, tinged with delicate purple, The dense and murky clouds out-belching from thy smoke-stack, Thy knitted frame, thy springs and valves, the tremulous twinkle of thy wheels, Thy train of cars behind, obedient, merrily following, Through gale or calm, now swift, now slack, yet steadily careering; Type of the modern—emblem of motion and power—pulse of the continent, For once come serve the Muse and merge in verse, even as here I see thee, With storm and buffeting gusts of wind and falling snow, By day thy warning ringing bell to sound its notes, By night thy silent signal lamps to swing. Fierce-throated beauty! Roll through my chant with all thy lawless music, thy swinging lamps at night, Thy madly-whistled laughter, echoing, rumbling like an earthquake, rousing all, Law of thyself complete, thine own track firmly holding, (No sweetness debonair of tearful harp or glib piano thine,) Thy trills of shrieks by rocks and hills return’d, Launch’d o’er the prairies wide, across the lakes, To the free skies unpent and glad and strong.