Night Mail is a beautiful poem by Wynston Hugh Auden. Here are given solutions to the book exercises. Go through them to see how effectively you understood the poem and whether you are able to produce the answers yourself. A script of answer to every question is being given here.
Night mail poem is about a train that carries mails, cheques and postal orders. the poet personifies the Night Mail giving it human attributes as it travels through a pastoral set-up. The train is not an ordinary one; it is a night mail that comes at night. It was an era where the system of communication was not highly developed and people communicated mostly through letters. The train is crossing the border overnight with mail, bringing letters and checks and orders for rich and poor. Though the way is steep, she is still on time. She passes moors and boulders, her white steam flowing behind her. She noisily passes through the ‘silent miles’ of grassland. Birds peer at her, and sheepdogs cannot make her alter her course. Passing one farm, the dwellers sleep on, but a jug ‘gently shakes.
At dawn she descends into Glasgow. There she heads toward dark furnaces set up like ‘gigantic chessmen’. All of Scotland craves her arrival, for the men want news. There are letters of all sorts and for all people: receipts, invitations, applications, declarations of love, gossip from around the world, news both ‘circumstantial’ and ‘financial’, letters from family members, letters with doodles in the margins, letters from all over Europe, letters of condolences, all written on paper of every colour imaginable. The letters have all tones and styles: catty, friendly, cold, boring, clever, stupid, long, short. Some are typed, some are printed, some are misspelled. Thousands still sleep and dream and have nightmares. They are asleep in Glasgow and in Edinburgh. They dream on, but they hope that when they awake, they will have letters. Their hearts will pound and when they hear the knock on the door of the postman, for ‘who can bear to feel himself forgotten?’. Everyone wants to be remembered and no one wants be forgotten.
Beattock – a hill in Dumfriesshire in Scotland, gradient – slope, moorland – hilly land covered with rough grasses, tug – to pull, yelp – a sharp cry, descends – to come down, gigantic – huge, large, glade – a small grass-covered area in a forest, boulder – stones, stare – to look at fixed eye, gaze, course – route, path, slumber – to sleep, dawn – early morning, apparatus – tools, machines, structures etc, furnaces – a structure or apparatus in which heat may be generated, chessmen – 32 pieces of chess, glen – a valley, loch – a lake, long – strongly desire for, long for news – eagerly waiting for letters, situations – jobs, opportunities, events, functions etc, declare – tell, to express feelings, ideas, thoughts, share information, timid – coward, hesitant in expressing feelings, circumstantial – personal, overseas – across the seas, Hebrides – an archipelago (a group of islands) hue – of different shades and colours, snaps – photos, scrawled – scribbled untidily, condolence – expressing sorrow at a death, outpouring – showing great emotions, coming in large amount, official – relating to office, cold – without emotions, indifferent, terrifying – creating fear, band – a group of musicians, well set – well laid or established or settled, well planned and arranged, granite – a form of igneous rocks.
A. Answer these questions with reference to the context.
- The gradient’s is against her, but she is on time.
a. Who is being talked about?
b. What is ‘gradient’ and why is it ‘against her’?
c. What is the significance of ‘but’ here?
- Men long for news.
a. Who are these men?
b. Why do they long for news?
c. What news are they waiting for?
- For who can bear to feel himself forgotten?
a. Who is being talked about here?
b. When would anyone feel forgotten?
c. How does the nightmail help these people?
- a. The Night Mail.
b. The ‘gradient’ is the mountain slope here. It is ‘against her’ because it (The Night mail) has to climb up this slope.
c. The ‘but’ here signifies that though it is tough going uphill, the train is on time despite the slopy terrain.
- a. The Men in Scotland.
b. They long for news as they want to hear from their relatives and other near and dear ones. Moreover, there is no other source of information than the letters that the Night Mail brings.
c. They are all waiting for all kinds of information- personal, business, happy and sad.
- a. Those who are waiting for the postman’s knock that indicates the arrival of any letter for them.
b. When they don’t receive any letters.
c. The Night Mail connect people through the letters it brings. The people feel connected on receiving letters. The letters relieve them of their loneliness as they feel wanted and realise that they are cared for by others.
B. Answer these questions.
- Explain in your words, ‘dawn freshens, the climb is done’.
- In what context does the poet talk about the jug in the bedroom?
- Summarise section III in your own words.
- Describe the different kinds of terrain the night mail passes through.
- How does the poet give the night mail a specific identity? Explain giving examples from the poem.
- Section III lists all the types of letters the train is carrying. Identify the contrasts between the types of letters put together.
- What is the nature of letters brought by the night mail?
- How does the poet give a universal appeal to the train?
- Comment on the charms of the pre-technological era.
- In the present times of instant communication, what would a poem like this mean? Comment.
- It refers to the arrival of the dawn and a new day begins. At dawn the Night Mail has reached the top of the hill Beattock.
- The rumble of the train causes vibrations that makes the table and the jug on it to tremble and shake.
- Section III talks about the kind of letters, the kind of paper they are written on, and the different tones of the letters carried by the Night Mail.
- The Night Mail climbs uphill, passes grasslands and farms, goes downhill, and passes through the industrial area of Glasgow, passes by valleys and lakes.
- The poet personifies the Night Mail by giving it human qualities. He portrays the train as a lady who enjoys the journey through different terrains. Everyone eagerly waits for her arrival.
- They are personal and official letters, happy and sad letters, love letters and letters of gossip.
- They cover all aspects of human communication-happy, sad, official communication, news etc.
- The poet does this by giving a universal need for communication of all kind. Everyone is waiting for someone to write to them and the train fulfils their wishes.
- In the pre-technological era, there were no phones or any fast electronic means of communications. People communicated through letters that took many days to reach their destinations. During those days the people eagerly waited for letters. The letters had their own charm at that time. In the poem, it has been very vividly described as how the people long for the letters and how different kinds of letters are written and sent.
- In the present time of instant (quick and fast) communication, the poem has little relevance. Its relevance lies only in telling or reminding of the past days of pre-technological era and importance of letters at that time in the life of common people.
A. Find four more examples of internal rhyme from this section.
B. Mention any three figures of speech that have been used by the poet. Give an example for each category.
C. The night mail has been personified in the poem. What qualities of the train have been mentioned by the poet?
D. Comment on the rhyme scheme of the poem.
A. 1. chatty—catty 2. boring—adoring 3. bushes—coaches 4. joy—boy
B. 1. personification—the night mail is given human qualities.
2. transferred epithet—silent miles
3. simile—like gigantic chessmen
C. It is thought of as a lady, tireless, enjoys her journey, bringer of news.