Dante Gabriel Rossetti
On The Road
October, and eleven after dark:
Both mist and night. Among us in the coach
Packed heat on which the windows have been shut:
Our backs unto the motion—Hunt's and mine.
The last lamps of the Paris Station move
Slow with wide haloes past the clouded pane;
The road in secret empty darkness. One
Who sits beside me, now I turn, has pulled
A nightcap to his eyes. A woman here,
Knees to my knees—a twenty-nine-year-old—
Smiles at the mouth I open, seeing him:
I look her gravely in the jaws, and write.
Already while I write heads have been leaned
Upon the wall,—the lamp that's overhead
Dropping its shadow to the waist and hands.
Some time 'twixt sleep and wake. A dead pause then,
With giddy humming silence in the ears.
It is a Station. Eyes are opening now,
And mouths collecting their propriety.
From one of our two windows, now drawn up,
A lady leans, hawks a clear throat, and spits.
Hunt lifts his head from my cramped shoulder where
It has been lying—long stray hairs from it
Crawling upon my face and teazing me.
Ten minutes' law. Our feet are in the road.
A weak thin dimness at the sky, whose chill
Lies vague and hard. The mist of crimson heat
Hangs, a spread glare, about our engine's bulk.
I shall get in again, and sleep this time.
A heavy clamour that fills up the brain
Like thought grown burdensome; and in the ears
Speed that seems striving to o'ertake itself;
And in the pulses torpid life, which shakes
As water to a stir of wind beneath.
Poor Hunt, who has the toothache and can't smoke,
Has asked me twice for brandy. I would sleep;
But man proposes, and no more. I sit
With open eyes, and a head quite awake,
But which keeps catching itself lolled aside
And looking sentimental. In the coach,
If any one tries talking, the voice jolts,
And stuns the ear that stoops for it.
Half-an-hour's rest. Another shivering walk
Along the station, waiting for the bell.
Ding-dong. Now this time, by the Lord, I'll sleep.
I must have slept some while. Now that I wake,
Day is beginning in a kind of haze
White with grey trees. The hours have had their lapse.
A sky too dull for cloud. A country lain
In fields, where teams drag up the furrow yet;
Or else a level of trees, the furthest ones
Seen like faint clouds at the horizon's point.
Quite a clear distance, though in vapour. Mills
That turn with the dry wind. Large stacks of hay
Made to look bleak. Dead autumn, and no sun.
The smoke upon our course is borne so near
Along the earth, the earth appears to steam.
Blanc-Misseron, the last French station, passed.
We are in Belgium. It is just the same:—
Nothing to write of, and no good in verse.
Curse the big mounds of sand-weed! curse the miles
Of barren chill,—the twentyfold relays!
Curse every beastly Station on the road!
As well to write as swear. Hunt was just now
Making great eyes because outside the pane
One of the stokers passed whom he declared
A stunner. A vile mummy with a bag
Is squatted next me: a disgusting girl
Broad opposite. We have a poet, though,
Who is a gentleman, and looks like one;
Only he seems ashamed of writing verse,
And heads each new page with “Mon cher Ami.”
Hunt's stunner has just come into the coach,
And set us hard agrin from ear to ear.
Another Station. There's a stupid horn
Set wheezing. Now I should just like to know
—Just merely for the whim—what good that is.
These Stations for the most part are a kind
Of London coal-merchant's back premises;
Whitewashed, but as by hands of coal-heavers;
Grimy themselves, and always circled in
With foul coke-loads that make the nose aroint.
Here is a Belgian village,—no, a town
Moated and buttressed. Next, a water-track
Lying with draggled reeds in a flat slime.
Next, the old country, always all the same.
Now by Hans Hemmling and by John Van Eyck,
You'll find, till something's new, I write no more.
There is small change of country; but the sun
Is out, and it seems shame this were not said:
For upon all the grass the warmth has caught;
And betwixt distant whitened poplar-stems
Makes greener darkness; and in dells of trees
Shows spaces of a verdure that was hid;
And the sky has its blue floated with white,
And crossed with falls of the sun's glory aslant
To lay upon the waters of the world;
And from the road men stand with shaded eyes
To look; and flowers in gardens have grown strong,
And our own shadows here within the coach
Are brighter; and all colour has more bloom.
So, after the sore torments of the route:—
Toothache, and headache, and the ache of wind,
And huddled sleep, and smarting wakefulness,
And night, and day, and hunger sick at food,
And twentyfold relays, and packages
To be unlocked, and passports to be found,
And heavy well-kept landscape;—we were glad
Because we entered Brussels in the sun.
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