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Questions of Travel

Questions of Travel

by Elizabeth Bishop

Man and the Natural World Theme

"Questions of Travel" seems to be a little afraid of nature. There's actually not that much nature per se in the poem. (Let's be honest: much of the poem is about a gas station, which is weird.) But the poem begins with a nature-ific bang—we are thrown suddenly into ominous waterfalls that threaten to submerge mountains. It's this fear (that the waterfalls are dangerous) that sets all of the speaker's philosophical mediations on travel itself in motion. So, we think that nature merits a pretty close look in "Questions of Travel."

Questions About Man and the Natural World

  1. What is the speaker's relationship to nature in the poem? 
  2. Is nature in the poem really all that threatening? Or are all of the dangers only in the speaker's mind? 
  3. What is the connection between the rain at the end of the poem and the waterfalls and streams in the beginning? Why does the speaker return to water metaphors at the end of the poem? 

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

The speaker is right to be scared of the waterfalls; a rushing waterfall is a scary thing. And people shouldn't go see things that are scary.

The speaker is acting like a scaredy-cat at the sight of the waterfalls. She's not in any danger; it's her imagination that causes her problems. So traveling is a good solution. Don't leave things up to the imagination; go see it for yourself.

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