‘Walking’ by Thomas Traherne is a nine stanza poem that is separated into sets of six lines, or sestets. Each of these sestets follows a rhyming pattern of aabccb, alternating end sounds as the poet saw fit. A reader should also take note of the rhythmic pattern used by Traherne in the text.
The lines are not unified by a single structure but vary from line to line within the stanzas. The first, second, and third lines are written in iambic pentameter. This means that they each contain five sets of two beats. The first of these is unstressed and the second stressed. The third and sixth lines (which rhyme) are written in iambic tetrameter. They contain three sets of two beats. Finally, the fourth line is written in iambic dimeter, with one two sets of two beats. The pattern may vary within the stanzas themselves, but it remains the same throughout the entire poem.
There is a great deal of repetition in this piece as well. Traherne’s speaker is making the case for walking through a variety of different metaphors that come out to the same meaning. Just because something can move, doesn’t mean it is able to fully appreciate the world it moves through.
Summary of Walking
The poem begins with the speaker describing how walking is a deeply beneficial activity when done correctly. Someone who walks should be able to tap into the true beauty the world has to offer. It is not as easy as it sounds though. There are many who are too ignorant or busy to see and care about their surroundings. The speaker gives examples of how and when this is the case and what mindset is needed to take in the love and joy the world has to offer.
Analysis of Walking
To walk abroad is, not with eyes,
But thoughts, the fields to see and prize;
Else may the silent feet,
Like logs of wood,
Move up and down, and see no good
Nor joy nor glory meet.
In the first stanza of this piece, the speaker begins by stating that when one walks correctly they see the world with their “thoughts”, not with their eyes. The best parts of the world, those that are to be seen and “prize[d]” are only observable this way. If one walks incorrectly their legs might as well be made of wood. They do their job, moving “up and down” but do nothing to help one see. No “joy” or “glory” will be met.
It is clear by the end of this stanza the speaker is going to be drawing a comparison between simply moving through the world and taking the time to walk, look, and understand.
Ev’n carts and wheels their place do change,
But cannot see, though very strange
The glory that is by;
Dead puppets may
Move in the bright and glorious day,
Yet not behold the sky.
In the next set of lines the speaker begins another comparison around movements. He states that “carts and wheels their place do change.” Anything with wheels is able to move, that does not mean that it is also able to “see.” It takes more than the ability to transport oneself to really value the world. The speaker describes how “The glory” could be seen as “strange,” and otherworldly as it has not always been observed.
As with the first stanza, the second leaves many details unresolved. One might wonder whether strange is necessarily a good thing or what kind of “things” someone could come upon. In the next three lines, the speaker again refers to movement. Here he mentions “Dead puppets.” It is unclear what exactly he is referring to. It is likely though he is thinking of physically present, yet inanimate puppets which resemble people but are not. They exist in “the bright and glorious day” but are incapable of appreciating it.
And are not men than they more blind,
Who having eyes yet never find
The bliss in which they move;
Like statues dead
They up and down are carried
Yet never see nor love.
The speaker does not blame the “dead puppets” of the previous stanza for their inability to see. But, he does have a problem with men who do have eyes and are “more blind” than inanimate objects without. They have the ability to see but have “never” found “the bliss in which they move.” There is a whole other world these people could be engaging in but the speaker feels as if they’re actively ignoring it.
The last three lines compare the ignorant men to dead “statues.” The speaker thinks they might as well be dead for all that they see. In the last two lines he once again he uses motion. He speaks of their ability to move “up and down” but that does not mean they “see” or “love.”
To walk is by a thought to go;
Move in spirit to and fro;
To mind the good we see;
To taste the sweet;
Observing all the things we meet
How choice and rich they be.
In the fourth stanza, the speaker moves away from the ignorant men unable to see the world, and towards the act of walking itself. He is outlining what walking really means and how one is improved by the action. First, he states that walking allows one’s spirit to venture deeper into the world. It frees one from a preconceived idea about the world and lets the walker “taste” the true sweetness of the world.
The last two lines state that it’s through observation one really knows the things that are met. The knowledge lets the walker see the worth of the world in a different way. Everything is “rich” or deeply meaningful and “choice” or ideal.
To note the beauty of the day,
And golden fields of corn survey;
Admire each pretty flow’r
With its sweet smell;
To praise their Maker, and to tell
The marks of his great pow’r.
The fifth stanza comes across as directions for the listener or reader. They are told to “note the beauty of the day.” This includes the “golden fields of corn” and the “pretty flow[ers].” These are pleasures that anyone could enjoy and are accessible to any walker who takes the time to see them. The reader is told to use their senses to smell the sweetness of the flower and then thank the “Maker” for what he has done. God must be given credit for the world he created. The fields and flowers are markers of his “great pow’r.”
Through this last line, the poet’s speaker has turned walking into a religious experience. He sees it as being a way to get closer to God’s creation and adequately appreciate it.
To fly abroad like active bees,
Among the hedges and the trees,
To cull the dew that lies
On ev’ry blade,
From ev’ry blossom; till we lade
Our minds, as they their thighs.
In the sixth sestet the speaker uses a bee as a conduit for exploring the world. Walking gives one access to nature and therefore the time and ability to see as an ”active bee” does. From this perspective one can move “Among the hedges and trees.” Like a bee, the walker takes in the “dew” on the leaves and blades of grass.
Small details become much more important to the walker. When once they would’ve been part of the larger background, now they are the foreground to which one pays great attention. The process of exploration allows one to fill their “mind” just as a bee does its “thighs.” This is a reference to pollen baskets on the hind legs of some bees.
Observe those rich and glorious things,
The rivers, meadows, woods, and springs,
The fructifying sun;
To note from far
The rising of each twinkling star
For us his race to run.
The seventh stanza also reads as directions to the listener. They are told they need to “Observe” the “rich and glorious things” in the world. These include the “rivers, meadows, woods and springs.” There is so much to see and all of it is under the “fructifying,” (able to make fruit grow) sun.
In the following lines, the narrative turns to the night. One can find just as much joy under the “twinkling star” as under the sun. The speaker states that it is for the attentive walkers among the human population that “his race is run” through the night sky.
A little child these well perceives,
Who, tumbling in green grass and leaves,
May rich as kings be thought,
But there’s a sight
Which perfect manhood may delight,
To which we shall be brought.
The eighth stanza takes another step back from the listener and prospective walker to address the childlike nature of one who sees. He gives the example of a “little child” who is easily able to “perceive” the world. This child will take pleasure from something as simple as “tumbling in green grass and leaves.” Unlike the child’s adult counterparts he does not need riches to be happy. The world is its own reward and makes him as “rich as kings.”
In the following three lines the speaker explains that “we” are going to be “brought” to a place mentally and physically where we are able to “delight” in simple pleasures.
While in those pleasant paths we talk,
’Tis that tow’rds which at last we walk;
For we may by degrees
Pleasures of love and praise to heed,
From viewing herbs and trees.
In the last sestet, the speaker lays out a series of circumstances in which “we” are “at last” walking towards a specific place or state of being. Slowly but surely “we” will drive there and understand the pleasures that come from “viewing herbs and trees.” All of the most valuable emotions, specifically those around “love” are given to one who like the child in the grass, loves the world for what it is. A walker takes the time to look learn and then love his or her surroundings without pretense.