The Railway Train
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.
- prodigious: enormous;
- supercilious: condescending, arrogant, proud;
- Boanerges: a name Christ gave to the disciples James
and John, meaning "sons of thunder";
also, a loud preacher or orator;
- docile: obedient, submissive;
Analysis of Poem
Adopting a childlike wonder and enthusiasm, Dickinson plays with the
metaphor of the train as an "iron horse." In her day, the similarities
would have had a vividness and an immediacy that have been lost in ours
(after all, how often do you use a horse for transportation?). The
charm of the poem has not changed, however, even though in our day the
phrase "iron horse" has become a cliche.
Enjoying this poem requires a willingness to be delighted by
ingenuity, appropriateness, and whimsy of the detailed comparison.
What words and images describe a horse, e.g., "lap"? Do they
accurately describe the characteristics and movements of the train as
well as of a horse?
Note her use of sounds:
- "like," "lap," "lick"
- "supercilious," "shanties,"
- "horrid, hooting"
- "star," "stop," and "stable"
- "docile" and "door"
- Other repeated sounds:
- "stop," "prodigious,"
"supercilious," and "pile"
Is there a reason why Dickinson emphasized these particular
words? For instance, are they important words? Are they connected by
What qualities is Dickinson emphasizing in the horse/train
metaphor? Is the presentation of this machine favorable or unfavorable?
presenting it as alien, threatening? does she make it familiar by
incorporating it into nature and everyday life? or does she achieve
|Dickinson, Online overview
"For each ecstatic instant," p. 2
"I taste a liquor never brewed,"
"Safe in their alabaster chambers,"
"I heard a fly buzz when I died," p.
"It was not death, for I stood up,"
| "A bird came down the walk,"
"I like to see it lap the miles,"
"Pain has an element of blank," p.
"A narrow fellow in the grass," p.
"I'm nobody! Who are you?" p. 9
| "After great pain a formal
feeling comes" (handout)
"The soul selects her own society"
"The heart asks pleasure first,"
"I'll tell you how the sun rose,"
"Presentiment is that long shadow on
the lawn," p. 36
| "Success is counted sweetest"
"I cannot live with you," p. 29
"He fumbles at your spirit," p.
"I felt a cleaving in my mind,"
"My life closed twice before its
close," p. 49
| "Wild nights! Wild nights!"
"She sweeps with many-colored brooms,"
"Hope is the thing with feathers,"
"I felt a funeral in my brain,"
"I had been hungry all the years,"
|"I started Early--took my Dog--"
"My life had stood a loaded gun"
"Because I could not stop for Death,"
"If you were coming in the fall,"
Sample Midtern and Student
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