Verse > Anthologies > > Arthur Quiller-Couch, ed. > The Oxford Book of Victorian Verse
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Arthur Quiller-Couch, comp.  The Oxford Book of Victorian Verse.  1922.
 
The Night Express
By William Cosmo Monkhouse (1840–1901)
 
      WITH three great snorts of strength,
      Stretching my mighty length,
Like some long dragon stirring in his sleep,
      Out from the glare of gas
      Into the night I pass,        5
And plunge alone into the silence deep.
 
      Little I know or care
      What be the load I bear,
Why thus compell’d, I seek not to divine;
      At man’s command I stir,        10
      I, his stern messenger!
Does he his duty well as I do mine?
 
      Straight on my silent road,
      Flank’d by no man’s abode,
No foe I parley with, no friend I greet;        15
      On like a bolt I fly
      Under the starry sky,
Scorning the current of the sluggish street.
 
      Onward from South to North,
      Onward from Thames to Forth,        20
On—like a comet—on, unceasingly;
      Faster and faster yet
      On—where far boughs of jet
Stretch their wild woof against the pearly sky.
 
      Faster and faster still—        25
      Dive I through rock and hill,
Starting the echoes with my shrill alarms;
      Swiftly I curve and bend;
      While, like an eager friend,
The distance runs to clasp me in its arms.        30
 
      Ne’er from my path I swerve
      Rattling around a curve
Not vainly trusting to my trusty bars;
      On through the hollow night,
      While, or to left or right,        35
A city glistens like a clump of stars.
 
      On through the night I steer;
      Never a sound I hear
Save the strong beating of my steady stroke—
      Save when the circling owl        40
      Hoots, or the screaming fowl
Rise from the marshes like a sudden smoke.
 
      Now o’er a gulf I go:
      Dark is the depth below,
Smites the slant beam the shoulder of the height—        45
      Now through a lane of trees—
      Past sleeping villages,
Their white walls whiter in the silver light.
 
      Be the night foul or fair,
      Little I reck or care,        50
Bandy with storms, and with the tempests jest;
      Little I care or know
      What winds may rage or blow,
But charge the whirlwind with a dauntless breast.
 
      Now through the level plain,        55
      While, like a mighty mane,
Stretches my endless breath in cloudy miles;
      Now o’er a dull lagoon,
      While the broad beamèd moon
Lights up its sadness into sickly smiles.        60
 
      O, ’tis a race sublime!
      I, neck and neck with Time,—
I, with my thews of iron and heart of fire,—
      Run without pause for breath,
      While all the earth beneath        65
Shakes with the shocks of my tremendous ire!
 
      On—till the race be won;
      On—till the coming sun
Blinds moon and stars with his excessive light;
      On—till the earth be green,        70
      And the first lark be seen
Shaking away with songs the dews of night.
 
      Sudden my speed I slack—
      Sudden all force I lack—
Without a struggle yield I up my breath;        75
      Numb’d are my thews of steel,
      Wearily rolls each wheel,
My heart cools slowly to the sleep of death.
 
      Why for so brief a length
      Dower’d with such mighty strength?        80
Man is my God—I seek not to divine:
      At his command I stir,
      I, his stern messenger;—
Does he his duty well as I do mine?
 
 
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