‘The Furthest Distances I’ve Travelled’ by Leontia Flynn is a seven stanza poem that is separated into sets of four lines, or quatrains. The stanzas are not structured with a specific pattern of rhyme or rhythm. In fact, the lines are very different in length. The longest stretches to ten words and the shortest is only one word.
The moments of enjambment, in which one line is cut off before a natural stopping point are striking. They come in places one would not expect, such as in the middle of a word. Flynn chose to structure the poem in this way to resemble the back and forth, up and down, always a chaotic feel of travel.
The speaker’s tone also fluctuates in a similar way. From the first lines, she seems upbeat, pleased to be changing her life. By the end she is much more meditative, trying to figure out what she has learned about herself and those she has met.
Summary of The Furthest Distance I’ve Travelled
The poem begins with the speaker stating that she, for the first time in her life, was heading out on a trip. She took everything she needed with her and moved like a sherpa from place to place. Along the way she was restless, drawn from city to post office to bank, trying to make her way to an unknown destination.
By the end of the text, she describes the small items she collected along the way. They would be meaningless to someone else but to her, they are souvenirs of all those she has met and left behind.
Analysis of The Furthest Distance I’ve Travelled
Like many folk, when first I saddled a rucksack,
curved under it like a meridian –
In the first stanza of this piece, the speaker describes the beginning of a journey. This is the first time she has ever carried her belongings on her back and headed out on any sort of long trip. As the poem progresses it becomes clear that the journey is as much an emotional one as a physical one. The independence that comes with leaving behind her known world and going out like a “sherpa” strikes and changes her.
The last line of the first quatrain speaks about her back and how it runs like a “meridian” against her “rucksack.” This is a testament to the new strength she felt at that moment and the fact that it was up to her to choose her own direction.
I thought: Yes. This is how
cells of scattered airports;
In the second stanza, the speaker relays her own thoughts at the time. She seemed to know instinctually before leaving her home, that this was how she wanted to live. She looked forward to a world that was open to her. The speaker could move, as a sherpa does across a mountainous pass. A reader should take note of the long second line of this stanza. It is as if in her excitement the speaker got carried about and only cut herself off as each new destination popped into her head.
She could also go to Krakow, Poland, or to the city of Zagreb in Croatia. In contrast to these more urban places, the speaker compares airports to a snowy Siberian countryside. They are devoid of the wonders of new worlds. Instead, they are blank slates ready to take her to the next destination.
it came clear as over a tannoy
was some kind of destiny.
The third stanza is shorter. Here she begins to address the emotional changes that came over her as she traveled. She is in an unnamed place, perhaps an airport or a train station, and is overcome with a feeling of “restless” and “anonymity.” These feelings come into being after she hears an announcement “over a tannoy.” She was another faceless person in a group of travelers.
So whether it was the scare stories about Larium
wiring money with six words of Lithuanian,
The speaker begins the fourth stanza by listing out a few things that led her to a specific place, a bank. She isn’t worried about whether or not she was led to this place by, “the scare stories about Larium,” a common drug used to prevent and treat malaria. Or by the scary side effects that might come along with the illness. It doesn’t really matter how she ended up at a bank that isn’t her own. She is there, and she is “wiring money with six words of Lithuanian.” She’s facing a language barrier while trying to do something crucial, sending money from one place to another.
The speaker does not make clear why exactly it is she is wiring money. It is likely the thought of the task itself that is important to the narrative, rather than what it is connected to contextually.
but to this post office with a handful of bills
to be catching a greyhound from Madison to Milwaukee
At the beginning of the fifth stanza, she mentions “a giro,” a common early method of wiring money. There is a franticness about these lines as if she is hurrying to get something done. She is “stuffing smalls / hastily into a holdall” as she tries to move on. Tasks such as this have become routine.
than to be doing some overdue laundry
when, during routine evictions, I discover
The sense of her world that she had come to know before she started traveling, has been disrupted. Now tasks like catching buses and doing laundry are mixed up. There is no clear order to where she should be going or what she should be doing. She does not have any exact responsibilities, except for those to herself on the road.
Although her mind and life seem to be somewhat cluttered and chaotic at this precise moment, she is not put out by the change. As she is sorting through all of her possessions she comes across a number of items she has picked up accidentally along the way.
alien pants, cinema stubs, the throwaway
I know these are my souvenirs
The seventh stanza is devoted to the “cinema stubs” and “tiny stowaway / pressed flowers amid bottom drawers.” These are the items she discovers as she is moving on.
In the larger scheme of things, the items are totally worthless. To her though they are souvenirs of everything she has seen. They are physical representations of places and people that exist only in her memory.
and, from these crushed valentines, this unravelled
of holidaying briefly in their lives.
She comes to a conclusion about her travels in the eighth stanza. The most important and “furthest” distances she has gone are between people. The speaker has met so many and moved on from all of them. This is not a depressing statement, more an acknowledgment of what this kind of life leads to. She was only a tourist, “holidaying briefly in their lives.”