The Great War

from Great Poems of the World War, an electronic edition

Trains

Lieutenant Roche has deftly caught and preserved in words the strange vision of unannounced trains that flashed now and then post towns and villages bearing American troops from unknown camps to unknown ports of embarkation--the flash of faces of men about whom it was known only that they came from the shops and fields of home and were going across the seas to fight somewhere, for those who stood and gazed as they whirled by. The mystery, the roar of wheels, the eddying dust and the silence that followed infuse these lines with picture and sound that will stay in the minds of any who saw such trains go hurrying away.

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.

Notes

Lieutenant Roche has deftly caught and preserved in words the strange vision of unannounced trains that flashed now and then post towns and villages bearing American troops from unknown camps to unknown ports of embarkation--the flash of faces of men about whom it was known only that they came from the shops and fields of home and were going across the seas to fight somewhere, for those who stood and gazed as they whirled by. The mystery, the roar of wheels, the eddying dust and the silence that followed infuse these lines with picture and sound that will stay in the minds of any who saw such trains go hurrying away.