In the nineteenth century, the newfangled steam engine was a byword for power. Just imagine living in a world without planes, trains, and automobiles, where the fastest thing going was a speedy horse. Suddenly, the steam train shows up – and everything is different. "I like to see it lap the Miles" captures both the beauty and the menace of this new technology by emphasizing just how strong and mighty it is. After all, something powerful enough to devour landscapes and plow through mountains is certainly deserving of careful observation and meditation. What makes this new "creature" especially fascinating is the fact that it's manmade – and this child of industry far surpasses its human parents in strength.
Questions About Power
The train is described as "docile and omnipotent" in line 16. What do you make of this odd juxtaposition of traits?
The final stanza compares the train to thunder ("Boanerges" means "sons of thunder") and a star. What do these similes imply about this manmade force?
In your opinion, do you think the speaker depicts that train as the most powerful thing in the world, or is there something else that might challenge it?
Do you think the train's immense power makes it scary or admirable? Both? Neither?
Chew on This
Though Dickinson's poem suggests that the mighty locomotive is a domesticated creature, the ambivalent tone of the final stanza implies that man may not ultimately tame this powerful creation.
The absence of human beings in this landscape suggests that human activity has been rendered unnecessary by the arrival of the steam engine.