Study Guide

I like to see it lap the Miles Technology and Modernization

By Emily Dickinson

Technology and Modernization

Though "I like to see it lap the Miles" doesn't overtly engage with the question of technology and modernization, it's definitely lurking in the background. This poem is a riddle to readers, just as new technology is a riddle to onlookers. After all, back in Dickinson's day, the railroad was brand new, and it wasn't exactly clear what its future impact on everyday life would be. After we puzzle out what the speaker is describing (a train), we might also think about the bigger questions being asked here: What is the train doing? How does it interact with the familiar world around it? How does this strange and unfamiliar beast change the world as it passes through it?

Questions About Technology and Modernization

  1. We've talked about man's relation to the natural world – how does the speaker describe man's relation to this human creation in the poem?
  2. The speaker describes the train as "supercilious" (6) when it looks into human habitations ("shanties"). How does this position technology in relation to mankind?
  3. The train is described as a domesticated creature, yet it also seems to have a mind of its own. What do you make of the implication that the train is somehow in charge of its own actions?

Chew on This

In "I like to see it lap the Miles," Emily Dickinson asks readers to consider whether or not human invention has overreached the boundaries of natural or divine law.

The unease with which the speaker describes the train in "I like to see it lap the Miles" highlights the foreign and unnatural character of this new mode of transportation and, in so doing, depicts a landscape uncomfortably undergoing the process of modernization.

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