Behind the Arras: A Book of the Unseen

by Bliss Carman


 

The Night Express


 

OUT through the hills of midnight,
Hurtling and thundering on,
The night express from the outer world
Speeds for the open of dawn.

Out of the past and gloom-wrack,

5

Out of the dim and yore,
Freighted as train or caravan
Was never freighted before;

Built when the Sphinx's query
Was new on the lips of peace;

10

Hurled through the aching and hollow years
Till time shall have release;

Stealing and swift as a shadow,
Sinuous, urging, and blind,
Unpent as a joy or the flight of a bird,

15

With oblivion behind;

Down to the morrow country
Into the unknown land! 
And the Driver grips the throttle-bar;
Our lives are in his hand.

20


The sleeping hills awake;
A tremor, a dread, a roar;
The terror is flying, is come, is past;
The hills can sleep once more.

A moment the silence throbs,

25

The dark has a pulse of fire;
And then the wonder of time is gone,
A wraith and a desire.

Demonish, toiling, grim,
In the ruddy furnace flare,

30

While the Driver fingers the throttle-bar,
Who stands at his elbow there?

Can it be, this thing like a shred
Of the firmament torn away,
Is a boarded train that Death and his crew

35

Consorted to waylay?

His wreckers, grinning and lean,
Are lurking at every curve; 
But the Driver plays with the throttle-bar;
He has the iron nerve.

40


We are travelling safe and warm,
With our little baggage of cares;
Why tease the peril that yet would come
Unbidden and unawares?

The lonely are lonely still;

45

And the friend has another friend;
Only the idle heart inquires
The distance and the end.

We pant up the climbing grade,
And coast on the tangent mile,

50

While the Driver toys with the throttle-bar,
And gathers the track in his smile.

The dreamer weary of dreams,
The lover by love released,
Stricken and whole, and eager and sad,

55

Beauty and waif and priest,

All these adventure forth,
Strangers though side by side,
With the tramp of time in the roaring wheels,
And haste in their shadowy stride.

60


The star that races the hills
Shows yet the night is deep;
But the Driver humors the throttle-bar;
So, you and I may sleep.

For He of the sleepless hand

65

Will drive till the night is done—
Will watch till morning springs from the sea,
And the rails stand gold in the sun;

Then he will slow to a stop
The tread of the driving-rod,

70
When the night express rolls into the dawn;
For the Driver's name is God.