“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 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
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