Study Guide

Overture to a Dance of Locomotives

by William Carlos Williams

Overture to a Dance of Locomotives eText - eText

Text of the Poem

Men with picked voices chant the names
of cities in a huge gallery: promises
that pull through descending stairways
to a deep rumbling.

The rubbing feet     5
of those coming to be carried quicken a
grey pavement into soft light that rocks
to and fro, under the domed ceiling,
across and across from pale
earthcolored walls of bare limestone.     10

Covertly the hands of a great clock
go round and round! Were they to
move quickly and at once the whole
secret would be out and the shuffling
of all ants be done forever.      15

A leaning pyramid of sunlight, narrowing
out at a high window, moves by the clock;
discordant hands straining out from
a center: inevitable postures infinitely
repeated—     20
two—twofour—twoeight!
Porters in red hats run on narrow platforms.
This way ma’am!
—important not to take
the wrong train!      25
Lights from the concrete
ceiling hang crooked but—
Poised horizontal
on glittering parallels the dingy cylinders
packed with a warm glow—inviting entry—      30
pull against the hour. But brakes can
hold a fixed posture till—
The whistle!

Not twoeight. Not twofour. Two!

Gliding windows. Colored cooks sweating      35
in a small kitchen. Taillights—

In time: twofour!
In time: twoeight!

—rivers are tunneled; trestles
cross oozy swampland: wheels repeating     40
the same gesture remain relatively
stationary: rails forever parallel
return on themselves infinitely.
The dance is sure.