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  • Asleep at the Throttle

    Posted by David Foster on November 22nd, 2008 (All posts by )

    Who is in charge of the clattering train?
    The axles creak and the couplings strain,
    and the pace is hot and the points are near,
    and sleep hath deadened the driver’s ear,
    and the signals flash through the night in vain,
    for death is in charge of the clattering train

    In his memoirs, Winston Churchill mentions that he thought of this poem, which he had read as a boy, during the appeasement days of the 1930s. I was reminded of it by this post.

    The original poem, which appeared in Punch magazine, is here and is pretty good.

    Also, here’s the whole issue of Punch in which the poem originally appeared.


    6 Responses to “Asleep at the Throttle”

    1. Jonathan Says:


    2. David Foster Says:

      Helps to know that “points” is Britspeak for a railway switch.

    3. Laura(southernxyl) Says:

      I liked the poem about Kaiser Wilhelm. I wonder if English people in 1890 thought he was just a buffoon, or if they realized that he really was a threat.

    4. Obloodyhell Says:

      James P. Hogan repeats the poem in one of his earlier books (early-mid-80s), with credit.

      Someone miscapitalized the final sentence, however:
      for Death is in charge of the clattering train.

      Since Death, in this case, is more of an an entity rather than an event (taking the place of a noun), it should be treated as a Proper Noun (Note that’s how it is in the original)

      Aside from that rather trivial quibble, yeah, it’s one of the few bits of poetry I can reel off from memory… It does such a fantastic job of creating imagery in your head. As many times as I’ve read it, it still tends to send a small shiver down my spine. That short version, is much, much better than the long form you link to at that.

      I agree with you about the Asleep At The Throttle view. I’ve tried to get people to grasp just how thoroughly Obama can screw up the economy (and politics, with things like The Fairness Doctrine) for a long time, but even those who don’t like Obama don’t want to listen — they thought McCain was “just barely” better. I’ll grant McCain was no prize, but Obama has shown that, like all libtards, doesn’t care about results as long as the appearance is OK — hence Obama’s comments about raising taxes not bringing in more income being “fairer” and thus still an appropriate action. McCain would have paid attention and changed course when it was clear what the problem was.

      I’m also put in mind of a quote by RAH:

      Throughout history, poverty is the normal condition of man. Advances which permit this norm to be exceeded–here and there, now and then–are the work of an extremely small minority, frequently despised, often condemned, and almost always opposed by all right-thinking people.

      Whenever this tiny minority is kept from creating, or, as sometimes happens, is driven out of a society, the people then slip back into abject poverty. This is known as ‘bad luck’.
      – Lazarus Long(R. A. Heinlein) –

    5. Jonathan Says:

      The Heinlein quote is very good.

    6. Tyouth Says:

      It’s clear to me that, to paraphrase Bill Buckley : I’d prefer to have 50 random picks from the New York phone book trying to repair this economy rather than the heads that are doing it now. The “engineer” of the economic train is, in varying combinations, bereft of common sense, deluded and corrupt. Seriously, it’s not rocket science.

      The so-called experts are not willing to accept that, in human/economic relationships, loss must be adhered to the cause of the loss or the problems are at best postponed.

      Bankruptcy and reorganization works pretty well.

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