T Theodore Roethke

Night Journey by Theodore Roethke

‘Night Journey’ by Theodore Roethke is a thoughtful, fairly simple poem about the American countryside. He spends the lines admiring the landscapes one can see by train at night. 

Night Journey by Theodore Roethke Visual Representation

The poem uses direct language that allows the reader to easily interpret the meaning. He loves his country and spends the journey on the night train admiring it. The poem reads like an ode to his love of the landscapes in the United States. 

Night Journey by Theodore Roethke


Summary

Night Journey’ by Theodore Roethke is a beautiful poem dedicated to the poet’s love of the American countryside.

The poem states that the speaker, likely the poet himself, is on a train journey. He’s traveling west, to an unknown destination, at night. He spends most of the night looking out the window, admiring what others miss while sleeping. He uses intense and celebratory language to admire the landscape around him. This includes the mountains, ponds, and more. The poem concludes with the speaker specifically stating that he loves his country. 

You can read the full poem here.

Detailed Analysis 

Lines 1-13

Now as the train bears west,

Its rhythm rocks the earth,

[…]

The straining at a curve;

In the first lines of this poem, the speaker begins by telling readers that they are on a train headed west. The train is rocking beneath them, and it’s nighttime. This meditative and contemplative poem continues, describing what the speaker (likely the poet himself) can see from his berth on the train.

The speaker describes what he’s seeing outside the train while “others take their rest.” As this is night train, it’s likely he’s thinking about those sleeping on the train as well as in the homes he’s passing. 

He speaks about the “mountain mist” (an example of alliteration) and the “lake below” his knees. He describes what he sees outside the window as well as what he’s feeling, like his neck “straining at a curve.” These are wonderful examples of imagery that many readers are likely going to be able to relate to. 

Lines 14-21 

My muscles move with steel,

I wake in every nerve.

(…)

Mist deepens on the pane;

In the next lines, the speaker continues discussing how his body moves with the train. His muscles “move with the steel,” and it wakes him up in a fundamental way, down to “every nerve.” 

He uses more examples of alliteration in the next lines as he discusses the “dark” and the “beacons” that are “blazing bright.” This is also an excellent example of juxtaposition

The speaker uses image-rich language that makes it clear that he deeply appreciates the landscape around him. He’s relishing moving through it. 

Lines 22-27 

We rush into a rain

That rattles double glass.

(…)

To see the land I love.

In the new few lines, the speaker uses another powerful adjective, “rush,” to describe how the train moves quickly through the rain. It moves in such a way as to “rattle…the double glass.” 

The last few lines are more effective descriptions of the train’s movements. The poem ends with the speaker describing how he stayed up half the night “To see the land” he loves. He wanted to stay awake at night in order to see the various landscapes of his “land.” 

Structure and Form 

Night Journey’ by Theodore Roethke is a twenty-seven-line poem that is contained within a single stanza. The lines contain numerous perfect rhymes. For example, the first thirteen lines rhyme: ABBCDEFACEFGH. The poem also makes use of a structured rhyme scheme. The majority of the lines contain six syllables. 

Literary Devices 

Throughout this poem, the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to: 

  • Juxtaposition: the contrast of two things against one another. For example, the light and dark of the landscape in this poem. 
  • Alliteration: occurs when the poet repeats the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple words. For example, the repetition of “mountain mist” in line eight and “muscles move” in line fourteen. 
  • Imagery: can be seen when the poet uses particularly interesting descriptions. For example, “Then a bleak wasted place” and “And gullies washed with light.” 


FAQs 

What is the purpose of ‘Night Journey?’

The purpose is to celebrate the diverse nature of the American countryside and provide readers with an image-rich description of what a journey through it, on a night train, is like. 

What are the themes in ‘Night Journey?’

The themes at work in this poem are love for one’s country and nature. The speaker describes the latter throughout the lines of ‘Night Journey.’ He uses positive language to show how much he appreciates what he’s seeing. 

What is the purpose of ‘Night Journey?’

The purpose is to share the speaker’s (likely the poet’s) love for the United States. It is seen through his clear descriptions of mountains, ponds, and more. Readers should walk away feeling as though they too took such a journey. 

What is the tone of ‘Night Journey?’

The tone is passionate and celebratory. The speaker spends the lines describing the American countryside in a way that makes it clear that he loves what he sees. He feels moved by the sights and sounds of the country and wanted to stay up late to see as much as he can.


Similar Poetry 

Readers who enjoyed this poem should also consider reading some other Theodore Roethke poems. For example: 

  • Elegy for Jane-uses intense natural images to depict a deceased young woman and the love the speaker has for her.
  • In a Dark Time’ – a powerful, short poem about identity. The speaker contends with their mental health while exploring their darkness.
  • My Papa’s Waltz’ – a surprisingly dark poem. It depicts a possibly abusive father who “waltzes” his son to bed.
  • I Knew a Woman’ – describes a relationship between a devoted man and his lover, with whom he is completely obsessed.  

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Night Journey by Theodore Roethke Visual Representation
Emma Baldwin Poetry Expert
About
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.
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