Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Trains - Judith Wright - Analysis

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

from The Moving Image - 1946 (Collected Poems)

Written during the War in the Pacific this is the perennial telling poem on the nature of man responding emotionally ... history repeating and there is no escape to the primitive nature that defies rational thought ... blood's red thread still binds us fast in history ... will we ever tame that tiger ... and the brilliant contrast with the spring blossom.

 Notes ...

The first stanza sets the scene. It is black night and ‘tunnelling' becomes such perfect choice in track with the dark-mind-set of man referenced by unthinking emotive response in the next stanza.

When I first read this stanza I immediately recalled a scene in South Africa from 1967. I was travelling by car with another student from Jo'burg to the Kruger National Park. We took a steep side-track to the bottom valley to stay in 'ronde-hut' type accommodation. All through the night goods-trains sounded as they disappeared into a tunnel high on the escarpment. These apparent unattended trains were quite eerie and they literally continually disturbed the peace.

Look at the way the old man's sleep is disturbed compared to the young ... scattering like glass ... old men who have perhaps known war and do not want their current peace disturbed ... a fragile peace, only too aware of the pain of war ... then suddenly shattered again ... hard to recover broken glass - hard to rebuild peace, destroy hate.

The white apple-blossom in bright contrast and reminded me of the old road into Sydney before the motorway when you had to drive through Picton and the road paralleled the orchards.

Well, we all know about the ‘Tiger' and the nature of man and an unthinking response to situations ... racing on iron errands ... an intractable mind-set ... against the background of unease ... the mother views the sleeping child ... war threatens the dreams for the next generation ... and the innocent again suffer ...
... but today there has been a ceasefire between Gaza and Israel and the animal-tiger within is subjected to a little discipline.


  1. That's a pretty sweet account... I love it. I hope that there will never be another World War.

  2. Would you say this poem could also be interpreted as an account of the part trains played in wars?

  3. Yes ... there was much movement in transportation of troops by trains