The Furthest Distances I’ve Travelled is a poem dedicated to a youth of travelling, curiosity and relationships. It spans through memories of times where Flynn was travelling, exploring the places, items and people she met during her journeys. Although nostalgic about possessions, Flynn states that the most significant thing is the people she has met, the relationships she has built. The poem is reflective, with Flynn looking back over her life.
The poem is split into 8 stanzas of unequal lines. The stanzas vary in length, but finish longer than they started. The 8th stanza is the longest, measuring 7 lines. The stanzas tend to rhyme internally with AABC on those with the typical 4 line length.
The sporadic nature of the structure can be attributed to this being a poem of journeys. The path Flynn takes within the poem is erratic and curious, with the structure reflecting these attributes. You can read the full poem here.
The Furthest Distances I’ve Travelled Analysis
Like many folk, when first I saddled a rucksack,
curved under it like a meridian –
The Furthest Distances I’ve Travelled begins with a focus that is not returned to until the final stanza. ‘Many folk’ places the stress of the opening line on the people that Flynn has seen on her joineries. She is one of a global community of travellers and represents this through her opening statement. She further connects herself to this mass of people by swiftly following with the personal pronoun ‘I’.
There is a slight nervous or tentative energy which ‘saddled’ and ‘weight’ evoke. Of course, now long past this moment, the nervousness has dispelled. Yet, Flynn remembers how she felt that ‘first’ time putting on her ‘rucksack’. It is an image of the beginning of the adventure, with the youthful curiosity of the poet being represented through this new and exiting ‘first’.
The image of ‘spine curved’ is one that represents the themes of the poem well. The poet’s spine is a mirror to the earth’s meridian, with the curvature of the earth being embodied through her posture. Flynn presents the globe as part of her body, with her love of travelling being encapsulated in the very fibres of her being.
Punctuation in this stanza is also much more frequent than the rest of the stanzas. There is an early caesura, lines broken with commas and hyphens and a decisive pause before the second stanza begins. This tentative disruption of the meter is a reflection of the nerves that Flynn felt the first time she put on the ‘rucksack’, with the poet being excited, yet apprehensive.
I thought: Yes. This is how
cells of scattered airports;
In stanza two, first two lines of The Furthest Distances I’ve Travelled summarise the early thoughts of the poet. ‘This is how to live’ compounds the message of the first half of The Furthest Distances I’ve Travelled. The sense of adventure the poet obtains by travelling the world is exciting and something she loves. The absolute certainty of character is displayed through the disruptive grammar. The grammatical isolation of ‘Yes.’, followed by a caesura and proceeded by a colon gives the word incredible weight. The excited delight Flynn has is palpable here.
The following lines flow through several different journeys and locations, covering much of Europe. It does not matter if it ‘the beaten track’ or something more exotic, Flynn’s love of adventure continues. The use of enjambment quickens the pace of this stanza. The quick flitting from word to word is emblematic of Flynn’s own movement from country to country.
it came clear as over a tannoy
was some kind of destiny.
‘Restlessness’ is an apt word to describe this stanza, with a fractured line cutting the stanza in two. This is a reflection of her agitation from travelling, yet also again displaying her excited energy. Another prophetic line, similar to ‘this is how to live’ permeates through the poem here. ‘Destiny’ elevates the grandeur of her travels, as if it was fate taking her on this journey.
Moreover, although the rhyme scheme is fairly consistent throughout the poem, here especially it is complete. The breaking up of ‘Anony/mity’ serves to reflect the ‘restlessness’ of the poet, yet also allows for two couplets to be formed. ‘Tannoy’ + ‘Anony’, ‘mity’ + ‘destiny’ both enclose this stanza in internal rhyme. This relates further to the ‘destiny’ of the journey, it is perfect, as if planned out before. Flynn uses this moment of seamless rhyme to symbolise her emotional pull towards travelling. For the poet, it simply is the right thing to be doing, shown by the rhyme and gravity of ‘destiny’.
So whether it was the scare stories about Larium
wiring money with six words of Lithuanian,
Larium is an anti-malarial pill, signifying that the poet has now travelled to an area with a risk of malaria. She shows that fear is no longer holding her back, she does not care about possible side-effects, her desire to see the world comes first.
Flynn describes having ‘six worlds of Lithuanian’, this desire to communicate without sufficient means allows for a polysemic reading. The first is that she desires to immerse herself into a culture unlike her own, although she doesn’t speak Lithuanian, she is still trying to use to local tongue, experiencing the culture as extensively as possible. Yet, this image also furthers the idea of the foreign nature of what she is doing. She is in a place where she cannot communicate, yet still enjoying herself. Indeed, Flynn shows how even the foreign can start to become familiar, one word at a time.
but to this post office with a handful of bills
to be catching a greyhound from Madison to Milwaukee
Stanza five of The Furthest Distances I’ve Travelled is written in a similar style to that of stanza two. The mix of caesura and enjambment creates a choppy rhythm, almost as if Flynn is remembering to do things on the stop. This frantic speed reflects her spontaneous travelling. The word ‘hastily’ is emblematic of this stanza, with the rapid succession of events being a reflection of the erratic nature of fast paced travelling.
than to be doing some overdue laundry
when, during routine evictions, I discover
This stanza brings a change of pace and tone within the poem. The end stop following ‘beyond me’, followed by the short one word line ,’however’, illustrates this change. This is the point in the poem where she has stopped travelling, she is now home, slowly unpacking.
The final word of the travel sequence is ‘me’, again focusing on travelling as something personally enriching. When pared with ‘beyond’, Flynn suggests that she has gained something from the experience, she has gone beyond herself and changed because of her decisions.
The phrasing of ‘routine evictions’ suggests that she is tackling the task of unpacking slowly, and in waves. It seems as if she is reluctant to unpack, holding on to the memory of travelling while the bag slowly depletes. This is reinforced by the double caesura during the last line of the stanza. This choppy line forcing the reader, alike Flynn herself, to pause and slow down.
alien pants, cinema stubs, the throwaway
I know these are my souvenirs
For Flynn, items are mementos that trigger a wave of memories within her. She cycles through her ’souvenirs’ as she unpacks. Things that seemed insignificant now turned into objects with a story and a history to them. This almost idolisation of the ordinary shows the value of the memories that they are associated with. It is not the item that is important, but the connection Flynn has with them.
The ‘tiny stowaway pressed flower’ is a beautiful image, ‘tiny’ furthering the care with which the image is considered. For Flynn, this flower represents a memory. For the reader, the symbol of this forgotten flower can be read as a memory compressed over time. Slowly fading away, but still always present, this is a beautiful image of the value of experience and memory.
and, from these crushed valentines, this unravelled
of holidaying briefly in their lives.
The final stanza changes the idea of The Furthest Distances I’ve Travelled slightly. Although Flynn values the items and the memories she associates with them. She argues that above all, it is the people she has met that will stay with her. Indeed, people make places, not the places themselves. The links ‘between people’ are the furthest distance she has travelled, the connection spanning both distance and time. It is a beautiful concept, the idea that although gone, the people she has met will always hold a place in her memory.
Flynn summarises beautiful what it is to ‘holiday briefly’ in someone else’s life. Everyone is the protagonist of their own story, you appear and then vanish, but you leave a trace, a shared connection. It is this that is ultimately prioritised by the poet. Those she’s met, loved and lost will continue on in her memory. Long after the ‘pressed flower’ has faded, the ‘lives’ she has touched and experienced, if only for a moment, will continue to be the most important thing.
The Furthest Distances I’ve Travelled reflects beautifully on the experience of a travelling youth. The memories Flynn makes staying with her, long after everything else has faded away.