The Railway Phantom

A Poem by J. A. Andrews (1888)

Down the gloomy mountain line,
Shrieking like a ghost in pain,
Thundering o'er its iron way,
Comes the rapid railway train–
Rushing, panting, struggling on,
Down to where the forest black,
Void, and desolate, and grim,
Swallows up the gleaming track.

Dark and dismal is the place,
Sunk in deep and misty gloom;
Sunlight never pierces through;
All is sombre as the tomb.
Not another sound is heard
Save the mighty engine's breath;
All around is weirdly still,
Like a wilderness of death.

Sudden from the bracken close
Rises up a spectral shade,
While the dank and marshy air
Chilling moans and shrieks pervade !
Anguish !–But the horrors fade ;
Like a flash the sights are gone ;
Silence settles o'er the glade,
And the train goes rolling on.

Many–many years ago,
Through these woods I strayed forlorn ;
Stormy winds pursued me fast ;
Strivings all my strength had shorn ;
Many miles my steps had ranged ;
Hopeless seemed my fate to shun ;
Over hill and bush and creek
Other life or help was none.

I had loved a trusting girl,
Dearer than my life to me ;
And that night from home I went
Forth to meet my Emily.
On the railway station bright,
Far from my sequestered cot,
Whither I should guide her back,
Evermore to cheer my lot.

But the Storm Wind prowled without,
And assailed me by the way–
Drove me through the wood-paths grim,
Where the giant branches sway–
Where the gaunt limbs groan and sway,
On whose bark the scorpion sits,
And the fungus-light is seen
Like a fiend that flits and flits

–Drove me wildly on and on,
Marsh and brake and fenland through,
Helpless or to turn or stay–
While the boughs around me flew.
Faint and weak my struggles grew–
Helpless, hopeless, battered sore,
Soon I wavered–stumbled–fell–
Fell, and sank, and knew no more.

Knew no more–until I woke
At a piercing, shrilly sound,
And a rumbling mumur leapt
Iron-borne, along the ground !
I was all too weak to rise,
And a train's onrushing force
Soon must rock in heedless rage
O'er my bursting, crushing corse !

Ay ! and she ! whose life was mine–
She–oh I God ! it choked my breath !–
Might, unwitting o'er me hurled,
Help to crush me down to death !
–Horror shook the very earth,
Quivering 'neath my trembling form,
And the wild rocks throbbed with pain
Like the aspen in a storm.

Then the skies my vision fled,
And gaunt darkness rose in air,
But a strange voice downward sped–
"Surely God will answer prayer !"
And, in anguish of despair,
From my maddened heart I prayed–
Were't but hell the means could bear–
That yon threatening train be stayed !

And, ere yet the words were given,
Darkness gleamed towards the sky
From a fearful chasm that glowed
Deepening to infinity !
Free upon the brink my body–
But my soul was downwards reft
As the flying engine hurtled
Far into the awful cleft !

And its living freight–their brows
Lit with ghastly pallor o'er,
Glanced a thousand torture darts–
All this rankling bosom tore !
Oh ! the pure girl whom I loved,
Now, while hell-fire through her streamed,
Mocked me with a demon's lust
Hotter than the hate she gleamed !

Then I reeled, with shuddering smit,
While the thunder crashed around,
And above its utmost roar
Howled the closing of the ground.
Then, as darkness sank again,
So I sank–but inward strife
Twixt my pangs, for fierceness' crown,
Lashed me back to woful life.

Thus it is that every year
Rise these phantoms in the glade,
And the horror-tainted air
Taunts and moans and shrieks pervade.
As they rise, for you they fade,
But, within my cancered breast,
They will rack, till time be stayed,
And Damnation brings me rest !


From "Temple Mystic and Other Poems" by J. A. Andrews 1888.

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