🎤POEM: “Travel” by Edna St. Vincent Millay

“Travel” by Edna St. Vincent Millay, American (1892-1950)

Summer is here again! – a time to visit the seaside, the mountains, or some exotic location. Wherever the destination, for me, departure day is always a joyful time.  As I close my front door, I know that whatever adventures I experience, they will change me in some small, positive way.  Perhaps, by the time I return home, I will have made a new friend, sampled a new food, or learned how to say, “Where is the nearest train station?” in another language.  I repeat to myself: lights-off, mail-stopped, windows-locked, and train tickets in my jeans pocket.  Yes, train tickets!  Like Edna St. Vincent Millay, I love traveling by train “no matter where it’s going.”

In her poem “Travel,” Millay tells us that though she hears loud voices, or lies dreaming during a still night, she is always conscious of a passing train. She hears the “engine steaming” and the “whistle shrieking.” She sees “its cinders red on the sky” (here, she refers to the old steam trains, fueled by coal). By the end of her poem, Millay admits she would take a train, regardless of its destination. I love Millay’s use of simple words and vivid imagery–the sights, the sounds of a train–as though a train were a living, breathing thing, not just carriages of cold, unfeeling metal.  Millay did not call her poem “Train.” She named it “Travel,” implying that a train, for her, is a means of escape–both physical, and mental.

ABOUT THE POET

Edna St. Vincent Millay

Edna St. Vincent Millay

Edna St. Vincent Millay was born in Maine and raised by her single mother, an extraordinary woman, who introduced Edna and her other daughters to literature and classical music when they were very young. Edna began writing poetry as a teenager. Encouraged by her mother, she entered her poem “Renascence” in a competition, winning a 4th prize and a scholarship to Vassar College.

She graduated from Vassar in 1917, moved to Greenwich Village, NY, and wrote for a living. In his book, Poet’s Corner, John Lithgow writes about Millay’s lifestyle: “She described herself as ‘very, very poor and very, very merry.’ She had many love affairs, she smoked cigarettes with shameless abandon, acted in a downtown theater group, and traveled to Europe.” Because she loved theater, Millay also wrote three plays in the form of verse.

Millay traveled the United States, lecturing, and reciting her poetry. “Women wanted to be her; men wanted to marry her” (Lithgow). She wrote about love, youth, liberation for women, and death. In 1923, she was the first female to win the Pulitzer Prize for her poetry collection, The Ballad of the Harp Weaver.  Other collections include Renascence and Other Poems, A Few Figs from Thistles, and Second April.

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Sarah M. Fredericks © 2015
Carpe Librum!📚Seize the Book…and let the page-turning begin!

12 Comments

Filed under America, AUDIO🎤, POEM

12 responses to “🎤POEM: “Travel” by Edna St. Vincent Millay

  1. Hi Sarah,

    I loved reading the comments from your readers who have now discovered Edna St. Vincent Millay through your post. Edna, or Vincent as her family called her, is my 2nd cousin twice removed. Although living on opposite shores and having never met, she and my grandfather were 2nd cousins. We are a family of girls, but we are still hanging on to the Millay name and we are ALL very proud of the name — my mother’s maiden name was Millay. She had one brother who had a son and two daughters — who have retained their maiden names.

    I love this poem of Edna’s. In fact, my husband and I travel — a lot. We write a travel blog which we then have printed into a book (http://travelpod.com/members/dayna-tom-2013 — Password: Africa2015). I use part of this poem as the introduction to our blog/book: “My heart is warm with friends I make, And better friends I’ll not be knowing; Yet there isn’t a train I wouldn’t take, No matter where it’s going.” ~~ Edna St. Vincent Millay

    A train, a plane, a boat, a car — there isn’t a mode of transportation I wouldn’t take to explore this wonderful world of ours, no matter where it’s going.

    Blessings,
    Dayna

    Like

    • Dear Dayna,
      Thank you so much for your warm and informative comment on Millay’s poem. I find her poems very moving, immediate, and unambiguous – therefore, very enjoyable. Thank you for sharing your travel blog link. I will definitely explore it.
      Warmest regards
      Sarah

      Like

  2. Marcus

    Sarah,
    What a great poem – the expectation of, and knowing of a train’s imminent arrival and all the possibilities associated with the journey. Great stuff! It makes me think of train journeys I have made alone – of which there are many. I prefer trains to any other transport (bar maybe flying my own Cessna aircraft!) The motion of the train, the sounds of the rail, are very calming. “And better friends I’ll not be knowing” – it reminds me of Stevie Smith’s poem “In My Dreams.”

    “In my dreams I am always saying goodbye and riding away,

    Whither and why I know not nor do I care.

    And the parting is sweet and the parting over is sweeter,

    And sweetest of all is the night and the rushing air…

    …I am glad the journey is set, I am glad I am going,

    I am glad, I am glad, that my friends don’t know what I think.”

    The connection between Smith’s and Millay’s poems may not be wholly strong, but there are similar elements – essentially: freedom to travel, to get away, the mode of travel you like most of all, the friends you leave behind (for a while), the fact that this journey is just for you – you own it – and, most of all, the adventures along the way to a known or unknown destination.

    Like

  3. Anna

    Edna St. Vincent Millay and her work are a discovery for me as well, so thank you, Sarah, for your reviews! As in Baudelaire’s prose “Invitation to the Voyage” (from “Le Spleen de Paris”), Edna St. Vincent Millay’s poem “Travel” conveys the thrilling sensation of departure and the way that it can almost haunt someone.

    Like

  4. Carl

    I have not heard of Edna St. Vincent Millay or her poetry. She seems to be a free spirit and a woman who does not care what others think. My type of woman!! I enjoyed the poem and the sound effects accompanying the recording. There is something magical or mystical about trains. You can keep the speed and convenience of air travel. Who likes getting stuck in traffic while on a long car or bus ride? The world is in too much of a hurry. I like getting on a train and letting my mind wander as I look out the window at the passing countryside, reading a little bit, or striking up a conversation with a fellow passenger. Give me a train ride any day!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dear Carl,
      Millay is one of my favorite “free spirited” American poets. She uses simple language to convey a thought, feeling, or a moment in time. I agree with you that traveling by train is more preferable than other modes of travel. No stress! One can watch the countryside whizz by the window, sip a cup of tea, read a book, or converse with a fellow traveler.
      Sarah

      Like

  5. Hayley

    What a fun post and recording! I enjoyed them thoroughly. I especially enjoy the sound effects and music you choose so carefully! They really add a lot to the literary pieces you record, I think. I have not heard “Chattanooga Choo Choo” in a LONG time! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Hayley. I searched for an appropriate classical piece of music to accompany Millay’s poem, but I did not find one I liked. I chose Glenn Miller’s piece because it was a fun, catchy tune, and one people would recognize. Over time, I hope to record more of Millay’s poetry. Unfortunately, some of my favorite Millay poems are not in the public domain. Luckily, “Travel” is.
      Regards
      Sarah

      Like

  6. Richard

    Hi Sarah
    I hadn’t heard of St. Vincent Millay but enjoyed the poem and reading very much. I have always loved trains too. As a boy, the engine and carriages of my train set went round and round through tunnels and over bridges. I had little trees and stations. Little plastic figures waited patiently for their connection. Where were they going? Who knows….

    The magic and enigma of train travel lies in adventures begun, new people, and places with strange names. “Is this seat taken?”could be the start of…? Constant motion and the shedding of the humdrum invigorates us. When I was in Canada recently, in remote areas, I would wake to the sound of a train in the distance – a haunting sound that also engendered longing. Longing for what?

    I think our nomadic ancestors could probably answer that…longing for what lies around the corner…around the bend…. In the middle of the night the hooting of the train in the distance calls us back to who we were before cities of granite and steel hemmed us in. We moved…and reached out and dreamt of something…some place….

    Liked by 1 person

    • I enjoyed reading your insightful comment, Richard. It is true that the haunting sound of a train, that moaning whistle in the night, fills us with a longing for adventure. Strangely, traveling by plane does not excite me as much.
      Sarah

      Like

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