The railway – 17 August 2020

Here is a picture of the Delaware valley in the age of steam. In a beautiful natural setting, a railway emerges from a copse on the left. A steam engine can be seen making its way along the track, while on the river, a barge makes its own way more quietly and slowly in the same direction. Old and new technologies exist together, in this peaceful setting.

This painting comes from the beginning of the age of steam. While previously a traditional landscape would show a classical temple, a symbol of a glorious past, modern landscape painting used the railway as a symbol of the glorious future. Above the engine there is a rainbow, an eternal sign of hope. Here the railway, and all modern engineering, is seen as hopeful and progressive. There is no hint of the consequences for the environment of railway building and the burning of coal as fuel, nor of the risk to travellers from accident.

This picture came to mind in this week when a train derailed south of Aberdeen, in an equally beautiful setting, leading to loss of life and injury. Hope and despair are brought close together in modern industrial accidents.

This American painting is The Delaware Water Gap (1857) by George Inness, and is in the National Gallery in London.



‘We feel ourselves as powerful as the sorcerers of old! We put our magic horse to the carriage and space disappears; we fly like the clouds in a storm… we are…as potent in the present as those in the middle ages thought only the devil himself could be.’

Hans Christian Anderson, 1847

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.

Emily Dickinson

Heavenly Father be with those who are injured, be with those who are bereaved, be with those who are offering their skills to bring healing and safety, be with them all as the days move on, grant them the strength to do what is needed and the compassion to care for those hurting in body, mind and spirit.
Heavenly Father send your healing spirit over them all, in Christ’s name. Amen.

Scottish Episcopal Church, prayer following the Stonehaven derailment, August 2020