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I like to see it lap the Miles

I like to see it lap the Miles


by Emily Dickinson

Lines 1-3 Summary

Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.

Line 1

I like to see it lap the Miles —

  • The speaker admires the speed and stamina of – what exactly? She only says that she likes to see "it" as it travels.
  • The double-edged verb used here, "lap," immediately brings to mind two different actions. The speaker could either be describing a racehorse, flying through the laps of a racetrack for mile, or a cat, languidly lapping up miles like milk.
  • Either way, something is moving across a landscape – fast.
  • If we remember the alternate title of the poem, "The Railway Train," we can already guess that she's probably watching a train moving along the tracks.

Line 2

And lick the Valleys up —

  • Going off of the second meaning of "lap" in line 1, the image of the mystery animal "lick[ing] the valleys up" follows on this theme of eating and consumption. "It," the train, is eager to eat up (metaphorically speaking) the distance it covers.
  • This use of the word "lick" is an example of personification. The train is described in human terms, because it "licks" the valleys: it's as if the train has a tongue. 
  • Trains can't actually lick, of course, but it's a strong image that gives us an idea of how the train moves through the valleys.

Line 3

And stop to feed itself at Tanks —

  • Another eating-related metaphor appears here, as the mystery creature "stop[s] to feed itself at tanks" (3).
  • Trains, back when Dickinson was writing, were all powered by steam, which was generated by burning wood, coal, or oil.
  • So, this must be a reference to the train being loaded with fuel so that it can keep moving.
  • Let's keep chugging along and see where else this train goes.

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