97": The Fast Mail

A poem by John Charles McNeill

Where the rails converge to the station yard
She stands one moment, breathing hard,

And then, with a snort and a clang of steel,
She settles her strength to the stubborn wheel,

And out, through the tracks that lead astray,
Cautiously, slowly she picks her way,

And gathers her muscle and guards her nerve,
When she swings her nose to the westward curve,

And takes the grade, which slopes to the sky,
With a bound of speed and a conquering cry.

The hazy horizon is all she sees,
Nor cares for the meadows, stirred with bees,

Nor the long, straight stretches of silent land,
Nor the ploughman, that shades his eye with his hand,

Nor the cots and hamlets that know no more
Than a shriek and a flash and a flying roar;

But, bearing her tidings, she trembles and throbs,
And laughs in her throat, and quivers and sobs;

And the fire in her heart is a red core of heat,
That drives like a passion through forest and street,

Till she sees the ships in their harbor at rest,
And sniffs at the trail to the end of her quest.

If I were the driver who handles her reins,
Up hill and down hill and over the plains,

To watch the slow mountains give back in the west,
To know the new reaches that wait every crest,

To hold, when she swerves, with a confident clutch,
And feel how she shivers and springs to the touch,

With the snow on her back and the sun in her face,
And nothing but time as a quarry to chase,

I should grip hard my teeth, and look where she led,
And brace myself stooping, and give her her head,

And urge her, and soothe her, and serve all her need,
And exult in the thunder and thrill of her speed.

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