In ‘I like to see it lap the Miles’ Dickinson explores themes of industrialization, power, and human ingenuity. It was first published in 1891 but it was written many years earlier in 1862. Although the “it” in this poem is never named, the text is clearly describing the Amherst and Belcher Town Railway Station and a train that’s coming down the tracks.
Explore I like to see it lap the Miles
Through the four stanzas of ‘I like to see it lap the Miles’ Dickinson describes the train as if its a living, breathing creature with human qualities. It licks, and moves, and feeds. The train makes noises as it struggles through the hills surrounding small towns and then chases after itself while it plummets down them. In the end, like a horse, it enters calmly into its stable.
‘I like to see it lap the Miles’ by Emily Dickinson is a four stanza poem that is separated into sets of four lines, known as quatrains, and an onset of five lines that is called a quintain. These stanzas do not follow a specific rhyme scheme but there are numerous examples of half-rhyme.
Half-rhyme, also known as slant or partial rhyme, is seen through the repetition of assonance or consonance. This means that either a vowel or consonant sound is reused within one line, or multiple lines of verse. For example, “up” and “step” at the ends of lines two and three of the first stanza as well as the long “i” vowel sound in “sides” and “while” at the ends of lines one and three of the third stanza.
Dickinson makes use of several literary devices in ‘I like to see it lap the Miles’. These include but are not limited to anaphora, alliteration, and enjambment. The first of these, anaphora, is the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of multiple lines, usually in succession. This technique is often used to create emphasis. A list of phrases, items, or actions may be created through its implementation. For example, “And” which begins lines two through four of the first stanza.
Alliteration occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound. For example, “prodigious” and “Pile” at the end of stanza one and the beginning of stanza two as well as “horrid” and “hooting” in line four of the third stanza.
Enjambment occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. For example, the transition between stanza one and stanza two as well as that between stanza two and stanza three.
Analysis, Stanza by Stanza
I like to see it lap the Miles –
And lick the Valleys up –
And stop to feed itself at Tanks –
And then – prodigious step
In the first stanza of ‘I like to see it lap the Miles’ the speaker uses the line that later came to be used as the title of the poem. Dickinson did not title her poems and many are now known by their first lines, a numerical designation, and in some cases a title created by an editor or publisher. The train, which is the unnamed subject of the poem, is personified from the first stanza. The poet describes it as licking the “Valley up,” like a tongue moving through the hills and “feed[ing] itself at the Tanks”. It is like a powerful animal that moves from place to place, feeding when it needs to.
Around a Pile of Mountains –
And supercilious peer
In Shanties – by the sides of Roads –
And then a Quarry pare
In the second stanza, the poet emphasizes the size and power of the train by saying that it’s able to “step” around a “Pile of Mountains” and look into “Shanties,” or small houses. This traces the train’s movements from place to place. Owners of small houses and large houses watch it pass.
To fit its sides
And crawl between
Complaining all the while
In horrid – hooting stanza –
Then chase itself down Hill –
The train squeezes into the valley, moving between the hills with effort in the third stanza of ‘I like to see it lap the Miles’. There are “complaints” that come from it in the sound of the engine straining and the horn blowing. The sounds are regulated, like the meter of a “hooting stanza” and then it runs down the hill. Dickinson describes it as chasing itself as one car follows the next.
And neigh like Boanerges –
Then – prompter than a Star
Stop – docile and omnipotent
At it’s own stable door –
In the final four lines of ‘I like to see it lap the Miles,’ the poet adds with a simile that the train “neighs” like “Boanerges”. This word is usually associated with a passionate or loud preacher or someone speaking in public. It comes from the Bible. Just like a horse, the speaker says that it calms down and stops at its “own stable door”.