Train of Thought

95a Night Train red Rocket man

`Night train’ is a digital art illustration I have created for this poem that I wrote in 1995.  I used Corel Painter 11 and a Wacom tablet and pen.  The train is Stevenson’s Rocket.  26th April 2018.


Train of thought


The Engine

At first motionless, one could have been deceived,

but this engine was, as Anaximenes[1] perceived,

– he would be chuffed! –

a world of thickened air, fire, water, steam and wind

of stars implanted in our tracks, sparks struck from an iron soul,

The early Greeks[2] got up the steam, whistling up[3]

gods and stomping out metaphysics from the archetypal coal.

Man sits and thinks[4], watches the kettle boil[5], lets the cakes burn[6].

Carbon.  The engine turns.


The Tender

Stripped to the waist, shovelling coal – sweat, steam and speed[7],

the stoker gets his coals by industry, lux ex tenebris[8] his creed,

and in his stove of thoughts[9] cooks[10] up dualism, dialectics,

for Adam delved and Heidegger digs, Heidegger digs, Heidegger digs,

Heidegger digs and the Rocket takes off – Man must explore[11],

ergo cogitation[12], noetic conflagration, empirical verification is all our care,

we get 24mph[13] from all this hot air.


          The First Class Carriage

Wittgenstein is dreaming of a railway tractatus,

but says nothing for fear that the words will bewitch him[14],

will derail and ditch him into mysteries

away from the manageable sterility of atomic facts.

Yet in silent cuttings he does enjoy the wild flowers,

the rose-bay-willow-herb hinting at the progress north,

and he whiles away the hours, drifting by

the exquisite Puginesque stations, little platforms,

signal boxes and level crossings.  He munches his cold pork pie

and puts his head sleepily back on the antimacassar.  For

words are clatter and scatter and clatter and scatter and

mind over matter and clatter and scatter and

so much Kant.


          The Waiting Room

Hail! Zeno, Socrates, Democritus,

Hail! Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz and Locke,

Hail! Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus,

and Berkeley, Butler, Hume, Rousseau and Kant!

Hail! Bentham, Hegel, Mill and Kierkegaard,

Hail! Bradley, Bergson, Russell and Sartre:

whose trains of thoughts in stations of the mind converge,

– and lines of reasoning across the years emerge –

some steaming down the mainline track

as others roll from sidings round the back.

Philosophy brings chance arrivals to the same station

and new thoughts spark from their association.


          Graffiti in Oxford Station

There was a young man in the Bod[15]

who thought it exceedingly odd

that hermeneutic principles of thought

and epistemological circles are taught

by such a jolly obfuscatory[16] old sod.


The Luggage Van

The porter loads the baggage of the day.

No camels, sherbert, girls and opiates[17],

but caravans of dreams sway, stowaway

and song beside a less exotic freight:

a bicycle, a wood and leather trunk,

golf clubs and a plain parcel stand just there

by  multi-levelled paradigms, defunct

utopian castles and an odd idea.

New theories of vision[18] postulate

blind dates with logical positivism,

while sensible fellows investigate

common sense and utilitarianism.

The student packs this baggage in his van;

cool metaphysics since the world began.


The Guard’s Van

Soon we will set you down at the station;

your suitcases deposited on the platform

the One who came for you with horse and cart

has vanished into thin postmodernism, so

“All change”, go Underground and “Mind the gap”.

Forget Bradshaw and porters.

In this new world you will carry your own luggage,

and new concepts keep their own tempo.


Jac May

JACM 26:viii:2005

  • [1]Thales, Anaximander (c.600BC) and Anaximenes were the first three philosophers in ancient Greece. Anaximenes said that all things were thickened air, Anaximander posing a cosmogony of earth, air, fire and water…
  • [2]originally: `Thales, Anaximander, Anaximenes’
  • [3]does not rhyme with `wind’, but is cognate and consequential with
  • [4]see Rodin’s sculpture
  • [5]see Stephenson, inventing the steam engine
  • [6]see King Alfred (849-889), preoccupied, dreaming
  • [7]see Turner `rain, steam and speed’, 1844
  • [8]motto of the NCB
  • [9]In 1619 Descartes served in the Bavarian army. While on duty at Ulm, he devised a methodology for the unification of the sciences. According to a story, Descartes had spent a cold morning in a “stove-heated room” (or in some sources in a large oven, poêle), and when he came out, half of his philosophy had got ready
  • [10]or – `gets’?
  • [11]Apollo 15 lunar expedition 1971: Dave Scott: “Man must explore. And this is exploration at its greatest.”
  • [12]Descartes, the Father of modern philosophy: cogito ergo sum
  • [13]at the 1829 trials Stephenson got this speed over 20 laps
  • [14]Wittgenstein wrote in Philosophical Inevstigations: “Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language”. he said “What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence.”  He could envisage only a structure of atomic facts, and rejected the propositions of metaphyscis because they use language in a way which transcends the limits of language.  He liked gardening and cold pork pie.
  • [15]“There was a young man who said, `God | Must find it exceedingly odd…” – see the verse attributed to Ronald Knox, and its reply, about Berkeley’s philosophy
  • [16]I have snitched this from a newspaper article or other review, which some years ago reported that a female Oxford fellow marked an essay with the words “jolly obfuscatory” – perhaps 10 years ago? ie 1995? I thought this summed up the Oxford spirit
  • [17]ie the early caravans
  • [18]Berkeley’s work, 1709 An essay towards a new theoryof vision

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