What is the theme of "Travel" by Edna St. Vincent Millay?  

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One theme in Edna St. Vincent Millay's "Travel" is the tendency of the imagination to step in as a substitute for self-gratification (and its failure sometimes to fulfill). There is a tension between the speaker's wanderlust and their inability to get away. And since travel is somehow denied to the speaker, their imagination must conjure up dreams of travel to settle the tension.

The speaker lives far away from any train tracks, maybe in the countryside. During the day, her desire to get away is so great that she can actually hear the whistle of a train where there are no trains. And though silence blankets the night, she can hear the train's engine steaming and see the glow of the coal burning, "its cinders red on the sky" (7).

The repetition of "there isn't a train" in lines three and five highlights this lack of access to travel, and in lines four, seven, and eight, the imagination steps in to soothe her with a whistle, a light show on the night sky, and a steaming engine.

The speaker repeats "there isn't a train" a third time in line eleven—at the turn of the poem. Here, again, the imagination proves to be an ineffective substitute for all the places and things and friends traveling would connect her to in real life. Despite the imagination's attempts to fill in the blanks, the speaker says desperately, maybe precipitously, "There isn't a train I wouldn't take, / No matter where it's going" (11–12).

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There's an element of dissatisfaction on the part of the speaker concerning her life. She constantly wants to get away, to explore new worlds and meet new people. Everything else just seems so much more exotic, more exciting. She's happy with the friends she has, but she wants to get out into the world and make more of them, and the train is a symbol of that desire; it's a ticket to a better, more fascinating world. But there's more than a trace of fantasy to such a desire, something that appears in dreams. And as with dreams, the ultimate destination of travel is unimportant; you just sit back and enjoy the ride. This is what life's ultimately all about—not the destination but the journey. And this is a journey which we all take, whether or not we respond with excitement to the shrieking of the train's whistle.

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The theme of Edna St. Vincent Millay’s poem “Travel” is wanderlust: a strong desire or impulse to travel. Millay uses the train as a symbol for traveling on to new adventures with new people.

The first two stanzas span the course of a day.  During the day, even though the narrator seems content with her life filled with friends, she hears the call of the faraway train. She thinks of what could be.

During the night, which is meant for rest and contentment, she visualizes the train moving on.  Once again, the night train represents the opportunities that exist outside of her current realm.

In the final stanza, the narrator explains she is happy with her life and friends but she has a yearning for the people she has yet to meet. She laments her lack of opportunity, saying, “Yet there isn’t a train I wouldn’t take, No matter where it’s going.”

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