Dickinson, Emily. “The Railway Train.” American Journeys: An Anthology of Travel In the United States, edited by E.D. Bennett, General Drafting Co., Inc., 1975, 6.
In this literary piece, written by the well-known author Emily Dickinson, trains and railway transportation are the focus of the poem. The narrator of this short poem describes the process in which the train takes to arrive at its destination, using vivid descriptors that help the reader envision the journey.
Dickinson creates a rather rare positive depiction of trains in her work The Railway Train. Throughout the poem, Dickinson utilizes personification, giving human characteristics to the train, which in return actually gives the reader a deeper insight into the human condition. Making the material more relatable, the use of personification allows the reader to be more inclined to take away a positive perception of the trains and subsequently the railway system.
As the audience follows the progression of the train throughout its journey, they experience all the dangers, hardships, and emotions that the personified train encounters. Snaking its way around mountains and “peer[ing] in shanties by the side of the roads; and then a quarry pare,” the audience is a first-hand witness to the perils that could result if the train is not secure in its tracks (Dickinson, 6). The juxtaposition of the train with the shanties shows the contrasting qualities of the two entities. As the train is new technology and the shanties are elementary and crudely built, Dickinson highlights the advancements of trains as a positive quality, a luxury even. Characterized with positively-associated diction, such as docile and omnipotent, Dickinson emphasizes her perspective of the train in a constructive-lighting. As the train does a difficult job, seen the stanzas of the poem that read “to fit its sides, and crawl between” and passages that include “prodigious, step around a pile of mountains” it always fulfills its duty in the end.
This source helps refute a false train of thought (pun slightly intended) that all creative works, whether that be movies, novels, or poems, depict trains in a negative light. Although there are far more sources that portray trains and railway transport as a hazardous system, there are sources that to a small degree counteract those stereotypes. Dickinson’s poem has been useful because it adds to the cultural perspective of trains and what society views the positive attributes of the system are. Questions that arise out of this text include: Where did the inspiration of Dickinson’s poem come from? Was it from a first-hand experience that she had with the railway system or merely a romantization?