ChapterThe Night Mail

The Night Mail is a wonderful poem about a train and how the letters it carries are so valued. People eagerly anticipate the arrival of this train. All you need to know and learn about this chapter is given below.

Meet the Author

  • WH Auden was a poet, public figure and Pulitzer Prize winner.
  • Born: 21st February, 1907
  • Place of Birth: York, United Kingdom
  • Died: 29th September, 1973
  • Major Works: “Funeral Blues”, “The Shield of Achilles” and “The Age of Anxiety”
  • Best Known for: Writing about love and on social, political, cultural, religious and psychological themes.
Mail by Rail
Mail by Rail

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Summary of the Chapter

As the name suggests, the Night Mail travels at night. It makes its way through the night going from London to Scotland.

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 and the girl next door.

The first stanza talks about the journey of the Night Mail which disperses white steam from the engine and snorts noisily. She is crossing the border and is carrying cheques and postal orders. There is something for the girl next door and the shop at the corner. The train crosses Beattock, a village in Scotland.

The night mail is steadily climbing uphill. She is carrying letters for the rich and the poor. She faces obstacles but she’s on time. She passes across the moorland (grassland) . The grass is bending due to the wind as the train goes by.

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

The Night Mail passes through the farms and no one stirs. All are fast asleep. The birds turn their heads as she approaches and stare at the empty coaches. The birds are perched on the bushes. The sheepdogs can do nothing to change her direction. They lie down and sleep with their paws strewn across. Only a jug somewhere in a bedroom gently rumbles.

Set on the dark plain like gigantic chessmen.
All Scotland waits for her:
In the dark glens, beside the pale-green sea lochs
Men long for news.

The train is doing amazingly well. Now it is dawn. She has finished the upward climb. She now descends downwards. As she passes, the moors and grasses have gone. Now there are cranes, steam tugs and signs of machines. There is now some activity going on. It is no longer a grassland. There is some industrial development as the Night Mail sets on the dark plain. The view resembles a gigantic chessboard. She passes through the narrow alleys and water bodies. The people of Scotland are waiting longingly.

Letters of thanks, letters from banks,
Letters of joy from the girl and the boy,

As we know, people receive different kinds of letters. The contents in each letter vary as well. The train brings with it letters with various purposes. It brings letters of thanks and letters from banks. Letters of joy from the girl and the boy! Bills, receipts, and invitations. Some are addressed to people asking them to inspect new stocks and visit relations. Amongst the train’s letters include applications for situations and timid lover’s declarations. There is plenty of gossip exchanged through letters from various countries.

Letters from uncles, cousins and aunts,
Letters from Scotland to the south of France
Letters of condolence to Highlands and Lowlands

These letters describe the various aspects of human interaction. There are grieving letters offering condolences. Also, there is financial news exchanged and news regarding circumstances. As we all know, there are no limitations on what messages one can convey through a letter. There are letters with holiday pictures and letters with faces doodled across the margin. Letters from family members and letters from different places.

Notes from overseas to Hebrides
Written on paper of every hue,
The pink, the violet, the white and the blue,
The chatty, the catty, the boring, adoring,

The night mail carries with it a wide range of letters along its entire journey. There are letters written on coloured papers like pink, violet, white and blue. Long chats, catty exchanges, boring and adoring are all some examples of letters. There are cold words, official letters and letters from the heart. There are clever ones, stupid ones, short and long ones. There are typed letters, printed ones and those with wrong spellings too.

Mail Slots called Pigeon Holes
Mail Slots called 'Pigeon Holes'. Mail bags and cabinets used to sort the mail.

Thousands are still asleep
Dreaming of terrifying monsters,

The last stanza of the poem says that thousands are still asleep in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen. Perhaps they are dreaming of terrifying monsters or about enjoying a cup of tea. They continue their dreams. Soon, they will wake up and long to have a glimpse of letters addressed to them. Each one will feel a quickening of the heartbeat as she or she hears the postman’s knock. All will be waiting for who would like to be forgotten? The poem ends by saying that feeling loved, remembered and cared for is a human need.

The Night Mail represents this vital link that keeps people connected, no matter their station in life. Through these evocative final lines, Auden underscores the poem's central themes of human relationships, communication, and our shared desire to maintain meaningful connections, even across great distances.

The path of the train is described in consistent and metrical rhyming. The poem uses auditory and visual imagery to create a picture in the mind of the readers.

The poet uses multiple figures of speech throughout the poem. For example, assonance; it is a type of figure of speech and it appears in the following lines where there is repetition of vowel sounds in the same line, such as the sound of e and o.

Letters to Scotland from the South of France.

For who can bear to feel himself forgotten

Then Anaphora which is the repeated appearance of a word or expression at the beginning of three or more successive lines can also be found below:

Letters with holiday snaps to enlarge in,
Letters with faces scrawled in the margin,
Letters from uncles, cousins and aunts,
Letters from Scotland to the south of France
Letters of condolence to Highlands and Lowlands

Handwritten Mail

Here all seven lines begin with the word - ‘letters’.

There is another figure of speech used called enjambment. It is a continuation of a sentence without any pause. For example:

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

The poem The Night Mail as part of ICSE English syllabus is an interesting poem that discusses the travel and journey of letters from one city to another. If you are interested in learning more about how to analyze a poem, read our blog post on the same.

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Above and Beyond the Text

The Night Mail poem was written in 1935 as a verse commentary for a documentary film by the same name. This British documentary film was directed and produced by Harry Watt and Basil Wright by the General Post Office (GPO) unit.

The documentary is about twenty five minutes long. It premiered at the Arts Theatre, Cambridge and became the GPO Unit’s biggest box office success. This critically acclaimed film gained immense popularity and was rated among the best.

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The Night Mail Questions and Answers

Below are a few questions that you can look out for your examinations and class tests. Stand out with perfectly written answers with help of Aneetta Class.

The Night Mail departs from England and stops at Glasgow, Scotland. It begins with the introduction saying that it is crossing the border.

The last line mentions that everyone eagerly waits for the mail. A letter is a sign that someone remembers you and thinks about you. The last line is very significant saying that nobody likes to be forgotten.

The Night Mail delivers letters to so many in Scotland. It brings mail and packages to the rich, poor, girls and boys, from relatives, from banks, receipts, bills, condolence letters, letters of thanks, etc.