Have you ever really admired someone – a friend, a teacher, a celebrity – but had the uneasy feeling that, try though you may, you just might not like them very much? You know, you respect this person and all, but you just can't feel totally comfortable around him or her. That's kind of how the speaker in "I like to see it lap the Miles" feels about the object of her admiration, the powerful railway train. Sure, she's all about its effortless movement and amazing feats of strength, but there's still something that feels a little off…she can't exactly say what. The poem is a little shady and ambiguous, and demonstrates the fact that there's a fine line between admiration and fear.
The speaker in "I like to see it lap the Miles" pretends to feel admiration at the beginning of the poem in order to add to an illusion of simplicity that masks the poem's riddle-like qualities, thus forcing readers to deepen their investigation of the poem's ambiguity.
The words of praise ("like," "prodigious") that populate the poem's first stanza are quickly replaced with more negative elements, demonstrating the speaker's equal measures of admiration and fear of the train.