There are several references to "trains" in Oliver Goldsmith's poem "The Deserted Village." Do the uses of this word have anything in common?

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vangoghfan | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Oliver Goldsmith uses the word “train” a number of times in his poem “The Deserted Village,” but he uses it in a sense that is unusual today.  The sense in which Goldsmith most often employs the word refers to a group of persons. The Oxford English Dictionary, in definition # 11 in its first discussion of “train” as a noun, gives Goldsmith’s probable meaning as “a set or class of persons,” and it indicates that this usage tends to appear in poetry.

The first reference to “train” in “The Deserted Village” appears in lines 17-18:

. . . all the village train, from labour free, 
Led up their sports beneath the spreading tree!

The word “train” here refers to the inhabitants of the village.  Later, in lines 63-64, the speaker reports that

. . . Trade's unfeeling train 
Usurp the land, and dispossess the swain . . . .

In other words, people devoted to commerce and commercialism displace the shepherds.

In line 81, the speaker refers to a “train” of memories; in line 135, the speaker refers to a widow who is the only person left “all the harmless train” who once inhabited the village.  In line 149, the speakers mentions that a “train” of vagrants once sought help at the home of the village parson; in lines 251-52, the speaker ironically and sarcastically declares,

let the rich deride, the proud disdain, 
[The] simple blessings of the lowly train . . .

Here he refers to the kind of humble but worthy people the poem is designed to celebrate. In contrast, in line 320 he mentions “the gorgeous train” of rich, worldly, sophisticated, urban persons, although the word “gorgeous” is obviously meant ironically. These are people whom the speaker does not admire. Finally, in line 337 he refers to “the loveliest train” – the people who once inhabited the village.

Goldsmith’s repetition of the word “train” allows him to refer, in a consistent manner, to a various kinds of persons, although he uses the word most often to refer to the people who inhabited the village. They constituted an homogenous group. The repeated appearance of the word is ironically appropriate to a poem that laments the disappearance of the group the speaker most admires.