8 July: Docile and omnipotent.

Bettwys-y-Coed, Wales

THE RAILWAY TRAIN by Emily Dickinson

I like to see it lap the miles,
And lick the valleys up,
And stop to feed itself at tanks;
And then, prodigious, step


 Around a pile of mountains,
And, supercilious, peer
In shanties by the sides of roads;
And then a quarry pare


 To fit its sides, and crawl between,
Complaining all the while
In horrid, hooting stanza;
Then chase itself down hill


 And neigh like Boanerges;
Then, punctual as a star,
Stop — docile and omnipotent —
At its own stable door.


From “Poems by Emily Dickinson, Series Two”.

Not that every train is punctual, of course. And these days they are far less dramatic as they hum along, smoother track, quieter engines, and heavier loads. There is power under one person’s hand, enough to transport hundreds of passengers at 200 kph and more. or 5 km long freight trains, but all these wonders depend on a team of people in less glamorous jobs along the line co-operating to enable the driver to control the omnipotent Boanerges.

Emily Dickinson seems to like the sense of a world under control, even when it is exciting and frightening. Young Abel was 4 when he travelled over this miniature railway three times in one day, the best day of that holiday for him. As well as the fascination of machinery doing its job, there was that same enjoyment of being both safe and adventurous at the same time.

But our world threatens to get completely beyond our control if we do not control ourselves. Let us pray for discernment regarding how we move around. Many journeys could be made by public transport, by cycling or walking. Trains are less polluting than planes and often as fast point to point, and altogether more enjoyable when not crammed into a corner on an overcrowded carriage.

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