The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“On the Move” is composed in five eight-line stanzas, with the rhyme scheme abaccddb. The poem begins by observing the movement of birds in their natural surroundings and comparing their movement to human action. Whether driven by natural “instinct,” acquired “poise,” or some combination of the two, the birds seem to have some “hidden purpose” to give meaning to their motion. The “One” of the poem who observes them wonders whether his own “uncertain violence” of motion is driven by the same forces. Until now he has been bewildered equally by both the instincts of “baffled sense” and “the dull thunder of approximate words.” The rest of the poem tries to make words yield their precise meaning in relation to the experience of motion.

In the second stanza, the motorcyclists are introduced. They mediate between birds and man, their movement seeming half instinctual, half pilgrimage. First the reader sees the machines on the road, then, from a distance, “the Boys,” who look “Small, black, as flies” in their leather jackets and goggles. Suddenly, “the distance throws them forth” and they look and sound huge and heroic. Like knights in armor with visors, they wear impersonal goggles and “gleaming jackets trophied with dust.” The observer questions their attitude of confidence, however, suggesting that goggles and jackets not only protect them from the elements but also “strap in doubt” to make them...

(The entire section is 444 words.)