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Questions of Travel

Questions of Travel

by Elizabeth Bishop

Water

Symbol Analysis

Shmoop has never been so afraid of water (and we hated the deep end as a kid). In "Questions of Travel," water is a spooky force. The waterfalls are threatening to submerge her; the imagined sound of rain is "unrelenting;" the streams are like "tearstains." What's the result of all this water nastiness? Well, it kind of makes the speaker think badly about traveling, too, since bodies of water stand in for all of the tourist attractions that the speaker might see along the way. At the same time, the speaker might identify with the water, too. After all, they're both always on the move.

  • Lines 1-15: In these lines, the speaker describes all forms of water as excessive; there are "too many waterfalls"; the streams are "crowded" and "hurry too rapidly." Bottom line: everything is happening too quickly and too excessively, and the water is our way to see that.
  • Lines 6-9: Here, the speaker compares the stream water to "tearstains" in a good old fashioned metaphor. If there's too much water and the water is like tears, that means (hang on while we get our calculators), there are too many tears. Sad. 
  • Lines 10-12: Using a simile, the speaker imagines that if the water keeps flowing excessively, one day the entire landscape will be submerged—even the mountains will be underwater. Gulp. But don't worry too much, this is all in the speaker's imagination. (Or is it?)
  • Lines 55-59: Now our traveler imagines having to listen to the rain, which, according to her, goes in the column of bad travel experiences. Using a simile, she compares the sound of the rain to the "unrelenting" speech of politicians. On the other hand, the silence that comes after is "golden," which reminds us of the "folded sunset, still quite warm" from line 29. In this poem, water=bad, sun=good. Easy as pie. 
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