Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Shunter


The engine-bars are splashed and scarred –
They’ve killed a shunter in the yard.

‘He never seen how he was struck,
And he died sudden,’ someone said
The driver coughed – ‘That flaming truck
Came on the slant and struck him dead,’
The fireman choked and growled ‘Hard luck!
As he was carried to the shed.

The engine whistles short and low,
(His blood is on her ‘catcher-bars’)
We had to let his young wife know
His soul has passed beyond the stars,
Where he will hear no engines blow,
Nor listen for the coming cars.

She stared and stared – until he came,
On four men’s shoulders up the hill.
She sobbed and laughed and called his name,
And shivered when he lay so still –
She had no cruel words of blame –
She bore no one of us ill-will

They’ve washed the rails and sprinkled sand.
(oh hear the mail go roaring on!)
And he was just a railway hand –
A hidden star that never shone –
And no one seems to understand –
Her heart is broken! He is gone!

The engine-bars are cold and hard –
They’ve killed a shunter in the yard.

Will Lawson

About the time H.G.Wells was writing his science fantasies Will Lawson, who has been called the Wellington Kipling, was writing prose and poetry about machinery, mainly rail and the engine room of steamships. And the men who manned them – often grueling and dangerous work. The comparison with Kipling is apt – poets usually have little to do with technology. Lawson eventually settled in Australia – more accurately it became his base to roam the world.

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