The Trains – Judith Wright – Analysis – ANZAC Day

ANZAC Day 2015


Two trains of roses have been placed down the inside the back wall at the entry of Nelson Cathedral, New Zealand.

The following is my choice of a war poem and it is ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) day today when the ‘World War 1 Gallipoli’ campaign is on the minds of Australians and New Zealanders. This year also marks hundred years since the birth of Judith Wright in 1915. This is a generic poem about pending dark days as war approaches.

The Trains

Tunnelling through the night, the trains pass
in a splendour of power, with a sound like thunder
shaking the orchards, waking
the young from a dream, scattering like glass
the old mens’ sleep, laying
a black trail over the still bloom of the orchards;
the trains go north with guns.

Strange primitive piece of flesh, the heart laid quiet
hearing their cry pierce through its thin-walled cave
recalls the forgotten tiger,
and leaps awake in its old panic riot;
and how shall mind be sober,
since blood’s red thread still binds us fast in history?
Tiger, you walk through all our past and future,
troubling the children’s sleep’; laying
a reeking trail across our dreams of orchards.

Racing on iron errands, the trains go by,
and over the white acres of our orchards
hurl their wild summoning cry, their animal cry….
the trains go north with guns.

Judith Wright

The first stanza reminds me of the time I was staying in a rondavel in a valley in South Africa when on the way to Durban. The trains disturbed my sleep as high up they trundled through tunnels in the hills making an eerie sound at the same time. Trains are very powerful images and coming suddenly at night representative of the foreboding onset of war. And more importantly these lines show how both old and young would be affected. The young might dream of adventure unknowing of the nature of war and being easily misled by any recruitment drive, whereas the old know only too well what is at hand and their hope for the the next generation is shattered like broken glass. The peace of the orchard is now clouded by the events which were unfolding represented by the trail of black smoke over white spring blossom. The trains are going north with guns and this was appropriate to the Australia situation as Darwin was first in line in the Second World War.

The second stanza likens the war-trait in the human condition to a tiger within the blood of all generations. It seems this tiger will always be present to trouble each generation and as in the first stanza reeking a trail across our dreams for peace (orchards). And how can mind be sober when it has to confront the terror of this tiger. It seems that the mind of man has to continually deal with war in whatever form. The last lines highligh the manic-force with which the war-cry manifests, represented by the trains travelling on iron errands, rather than iron rails. It is an animal cry reflecting the ever present unstoppable base elements of the human condition.

As the world gets smaller and smaller war and conflict is quicky brought to our attention by the media – wherever it is occuring, so you could say that ‘train-noise’ is a more frequent visitor to the background of the mind. Whether this awareness makes the world better equiped to deal with such situations is another matter – but we live in hope.

yesterday the earth shook
today there are poppies every where

We give thanks that we are lucky enough to live where peace prevails!

I have also commented on this poem on my previous Site.

   … and the following are links to previous ANZAC Day Posts …

Previous ANZAC Day words 2014

Previous ANZAC Day words 2013

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