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When this poem starts out, it seems like it is going to be nostalgic for a pastoral past and lament of industrialized future. But this is not the case here. The locomotives “sing.” Lindsay could’ve chosen to use “roar” or “crunch.” Using “sing,” he shows that this historical progression is not necessarily bad. The railways will destroy some of the prairie, but this isn’t inherently bad. He notes that the “spring is still sweet” amidst the rolling of the wheels. The flower-fed buffalo of the past are gone and the Native Americans who preyed on them are also gone. Word choice is important here. The buffalo are gone and so they don’t “gore” or “bellow” anymore. Lindsay is making the point that to savor a memory of this rustic America, but it is also a savage past and historical progress can be optimistic. When things are destroyed or lost, others are created.
The prairie flowers, the Pawnee and the Blackfeet are not gone. But they lie low, which means that they are not a part of this landscape anymore but their memory is. With the descriptions of the buffalo “goring” on the flowers, and the locomotive “singing,” we get the implication that this historical transition is not some evil human destruction of the natural world. It is just progress and should be interpreted optimistically. By mentioning the Pawnee and Blackfeet who hunted buffalo, Lindsay may have been doing one (or two things). First, since the hunt is a savage, violent image, this part of the past is not to be lamented since the buffalo were nearly wiped out. So, trading transportation for a hunt towards extinction is not necessarily bad. Lindsay might also have been connoting “Indian” with “savage,” which by today’s perspective would be racist or stereotypical. Then again, their decrease in population, due to Western expansion, disease and war with European Americans in the 19th century could be compared to the loss of buffalo and the industrialization of the prairie.
Overall, this poem symbolizes the past as beautiful but violent. As for the future, the glass is half-full.
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