I like to see it lap the Miles
by Emily Dickinson
Analysis: Sound Check
Even before we figure out that "I like to see it lap the Miles" describes a train in motion, we can already feel the "chugga chugga (choo choo!)" rhythm of the railway. Dickinson's poem possesses a clear, pulsing rhythm, due to the consistent rhyme scheme and iambic meters that she employs (see "Form and Meter" for more on that), and it immediately meshes with her description of a steaming locomotive chugging along through the countryside. The poem's forward-moving beat takes us right into the moving picture that Dickinson creates: we see and hear – and feel – the speeding train as it glides easily over hills and valleys, then slices through a tunnel, huffing and dramatically, then gains momentum downhill and pulls into the station.
Some of Dickinson's language is even onomatopoeic, meaning that it imitates the thing it's talking about. For example, when she describes the train "Complaining…in horrid – hooting stanza" (11-12), we can hear the train shrieking out its shrill steam whistle as it passes through a tunnel (a warning to anyone who might be in or around the tunnel). This true-to-life sound effect helps us feel not only like we're observing the train with the speaker, but also like we're traveling along with the train on its exciting journey.