Lines 1-3 Summary
Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
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.
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.
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.