I like to see it lap the miles,
And lick the valleys up,
And stop to feed itself at tanks;
And then, prodigious, step
Around a pile of mountains,
And, supercilious, peer
In shanties by the sides of roads;
And then a quarry pare
To fit its sides, and crawl between,
Complaining all the while
In horrid, hooting stanza;
Then chase itself down hill
And neigh like Boanerges;
Then, punctual as a star,
Stop–docile and omnipotent–
At its own stable door.
This is a representative poem about a train, now well known as the “iron horse”. The train is so powerful, it laps around the valleys and mountains, and looks “down upon” those surrounding shacks by the roads as it whizzes past. It complains loudly all the time when in motion. Still it is in control … it is as punctual as the stars roaming the skies and stops at its designated station. The train is omnipotent, but docile when stopped.
The rhyming is not perfect in this poem like in some other Emily Dickinson poems, and phrases don’t necessarily end at the end of each line of the poem. She focuses on one image — comparison of a horse and a train — and really describes it throughout the poem. This is how meditation is done through a poem.
supercilious: condescending, arrogant, proud;
Boanerges: a name Christ gave to the disciples James and John, meaning “sons of thunder”; also, a loud preacher or orator;
docile: obedient, submissive;
omnipotent: all powerful.
shanties: roughly built, often ramshackle cabins; shacks.
Note her use of sounds:
“like,” “lap,” “lick”
“supercilious,” “shanties,” “sides”
“star,” “stop,” and “stable”
“docile” and “door”
Other repeated sounds:
“stop,” “prodigious,” “supercilious,” and “pile”
More info on Boanerges
1. (Christian Religious Writings / Bible) New Testament a nickname applied by Jesus to James and John in Mark 3:17
2. a fiery preacher, esp one with a powerful voice
[from Hebrew benē reghesh sons of thunder]
Bo·a·ner·ges [boh-uh-nur-jeez] Show IPA
1.a surname given by Jesus to James and John. Mark 3:17.
2.(used with a singular verb) a vociferous preacher or orator.
And James, the son of Zebedee, and John, the brother of James, and he gave them the name Boanerges, which is Sons of Thunder.
When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?”