Crash Course

ICSE Treasure Chest: The Night Mail by W.H. Auden

by AlmondBooks Support on Jan 17, 2023

The ICSE Treasure Chest is a collection of poems curated for students in ICSE Class 9 (2025 Batch). One of the standout poems from the collection ‘The Night Mail’ is a poem written by W.H. Auden that describes the journey of a mail train across the border, delivering letters and postal orders to various destinations. In this article, we will take a closer look at the poem, review a short summary and solve some MCQs for practice.

Poem

This is the night mail crossing the Border,
Bringing the cheque and the postal order,

Letters for the rich, letters for the poor,
The shop at the corner, the girl next door.

Pulling up Beattock, a steady climb:
The gradient's against her, but she's on time.

Past cotton-grass and moorland boulder
Shovelling white steam over her shoulder,

Snorting noisily as she passes
Silent miles of wind-bent grasses.

Birds turn their heads as she approaches,
Stare from bushes at her blank-faced coaches.

Sheepdogs cannot turn her course.
They slumber on with paws across.

In the farm she passes no one wakes,
But a jug in a bedroom gently shakes.

Dawn freshens, her climb is done.
Down towards Glasgow she descends,
Towards the steam tugs yelping down a glade of cranes
Towards the fields of apparatus, the furnaces
Set on the dark plain like gigantic chessmen. All Scotland waits for her:
In dark glens, beside pale-green lochs Men long for news.

Letters of thanks, letters from banks,
Letters of joy from girl and boy,
Receipted bills and invitations
To inspect new stock or to visit relations,
And applications for situations, And timid lovers' declarations,
And gossip, gossip from all the nations,
News circumstantial, news financial,
Letters with holiday snaps to enlarge in,
Letters with faces scrawled on the margin,
Letters from uncles, cousins, and aunts,
Letters to Scotland from the South of France,
Letters of condolence to Highlands and Lowlands
Written on paper of every hue,
The pink, the violet, the white and the blue,
The chatty, the catty, the boring, the adoring,
The cold and official and the heart's outpouring,
Clever, stupid, short and long,
The typed and the printed and the spelt all wrong.

Thousands are still asleep,
Dreaming of terrifying monsters
Or of friendly tea beside the band in Cranston's or Crawford's:

Asleep in working in Glasgow,
Asleep in well-set Edinburgh,
Asleep in granite Aberdeen,
They continue their dreams,
But shall wake soon and hope for letters,
And none will hear the postman's knock
Without a quickening of the heart,
For who can bear to feel himself forgotten?

Summary

The Night Mail is a poem by W.H. Auden that paints a vivid picture of the journey of a mail train across the border, connecting people and communities through letters and postal orders. The poem describes the sights, sounds, and emotions of the train's journey, including the movement through the landscape, the reaction of wildlife, and the anticipation of people waiting for letters from loved ones. The poem also reflects on the importance of the mail in connecting people and the emotional impact of receiving a letter. It ends with the train descending towards Glasgow, highlighting the power of the mail to bring people together through the written word.

Multiple Choice Questions (MCQs)

1. What is the main subject of W.H. Auden's poem "The Night Mail"?
a) A mail train crossing the border
b) A ship sailing through the sea
c) A journey through space
d) A walk through the forest

2. What is the main purpose of the mail train described in the poem?
a) To transport goods
b) To transport people
c) To deliver letters and postal orders
d) To transport animals

3. What is the tone of the poem ?
a) Melancholic
b) Romantic
c) Nostalgic
d) Celebratory

4. What is the emotional impact of receiving a letter described in the poem?
a) Humorous
b) Inconsequential
c) Profound
d) Unimportant

5. What does mail train symbolize in the poem?
a) The tree is weak because it is domesticated
b) The tree is domesticated because it is weak
c) The tree is domesticated and weak because of human intervention
d) The tree is weak and domesticated by nature.

Answers

  1. a) A mail train crossing over the border
  2. c) To deliver letters and postal orders
  3. d) Celebratory
  4. c) Profound
  5. a) Connection and community