The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Walter McDonald’s “A Thousand Miles of Stars” consists of four eight-line stanzas written in rhythmic free verse of four to six beats per line. A lyrical reflection, it focuses on the changes in personal values that come with years and experience. The speaker first describes, with comic irony, his youthful, romantic vision of his place and potential in the world. He then contrasts this speculation with the more down-to-earth vision that characterizes his maturity. Although the things he values have changed with age and circumstance, his passion for life and the world in which he lives remains.

The poem begins with the speaker’s memory that he thought he would “need a thousand sweethearts” when he became a famous rodeo rider. So great would be his wealth and fame that he would pass his days in “villas in Italy,/ Geneva, Tahiti.” Not only humans but also animals would respond to him with love and devotion. “Palominos” would nudge his fist for sugar; dogs would call him master “with their tails”; and even the more exotic creatures of his romantic retreats, “leopards” and “monkeys,” would do “amazing tricks” to please him. His toucans would welcome him home with their singing.

Such were the dreams that, after a long day in the saddle, the young cowboy would enjoy in the bunkhouse. The excitement of “straddling a black,/ two-thousand-pound bull” with “a thousand fans cheering” had understandably filled...

(The entire section is 511 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The overall structure of this poem hinges on the narrator’s shifting focus, since that contrast demonstrates how values and perceptions change with age. The details of the first two stanzas portray the romantic vision of youth with hyperbole and ironic overstatement. The narrator will “need” a thousand sweethearts—a testament not only to his passion for excitement but also to his perceived virility. His lifestyle expectations, too, are wildly exaggerated. In his dreams, he will live among the scenes that real cowboys experience only in travel films or brochures—Italy, Geneva, Tahiti. The creatures that surround him will not be horses and cattle—creatures of real ranch life—but monkeys, leopards, and toucans—creatures of his imagination.

The aural system of the poem, too, supports the ironic tone McDonald is creating. Typically his poems are a richly woven tapestry of sound, and this one is no exception. In the first two stanzas, however, he sacrifices his customary subtlety to engage an aural extravagance that meshes with the young man’s romantic dreams and at the same time confirms the speaker’s ironic distance. The images of youth are a lavish intertwining of internal rhyme, alliteration, assonance, and consonance. For example, he “thought [he’d] need a thousand sweethearts”; the dogs he envisions would be “wagging, dragging my slippers”; in his imagination “Palominos pranced,” then “nudgednibbling my palm”; “monkeys [would do] amazing tricks to please me,” and “red and blue toucanscooing” would be “free to fly in and out.”

The syntax also enhances the poem’s effect. Two rhetorical...

(The entire section is 679 words.)