The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

As the title given to it by the first editors of Emily Dickinson’s poem suggests, “I like to see it lap the Miles—” is about a train. It was not unusual for Emily Dickinson to write short descriptive poems of this kind, although she more often wrote about natural objects than mechanical ones. In this poem, she uses natural images to describe a thing which is only nearly named in a pun.

Dickinson first describes the thing as if it were like a cat, lapping and licking so many miles like so much milk. When it stops “to feed itself at tanks,” however, one must adjust one’s image from a household pet to something much larger. The next line reinforces this impression, as this thing is something “prodigious.” It is big enough to go around not only one but many mountains in a single “step.” When in the second stanza the reader is told that it looks into the windows of houses, one might even imagine a giant leaning down with his eye to a window. In line 8, however, the poem shifts focus from size to power: This thing can “pare” or carve a “quarry” out of rock.

In the first line of the third stanza, one’s impression of the largeness of the thing shifts from height to length: It is something that “crawl[s]” and is noisy. In lines 10 and 11, the reader is told that its “complaint[s]” are “horrid” and “hooting,” but because its noise is referred to as a “stanza,” it is known somehow also to have a poetic...

(The entire section is 494 words.)