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Compare Walt Whitman’s „To a Locomotive in Winter” with Emily Dickinson’s “I like to see it lap the miles.”!
“To a Locomotive in Winter”, written by Walt Whitman, is about a locomotive, that is described as very strong and powerful in a positive way. In the poem it becomes clear that the speaker is a supporter of the technological progress of America, represented by the locomotive, because he tries to establish a connection between poetry and science.
Emily Dickinson’s “I like to see it lap the Miles” is also about a locomotive. Again poetry and science are linked in a certain way but in contrast to Whitman her poem has some negative connotations. So maybe the speaker is no supporter of America’s technological progress or at least he is afraid of the future fortune.
In “To a Locomotive in Winter” the lyrical I addresses directly the locomotive. This is pointed up by the many anaphors in the beginning of the poem. Nearly every line starts with “thee” or “thy”, for example line 1,2 and 4 start with “thee” and line 6,7,9,11,12 and 16 start with “thy”. Through out the entire poem the lyrical I speaks to the locomotive and that makes the poem look like a prayer or something similar. From this starting point you can identify the speaker as an explicit one. The formal structure of the poem underlines the suspicion that the poem may be a speech or a prayer to somebody. It counts 40 lines without a subdivision into stanzas. But many lines continue with an indent in the following line. For example line 2 and 3 can be written in one line. So it is also possible to say that the poem consists of 26 lines. Whitman’s poem is composed in free verse. It does not follow any regular or accepted pattern. In the poem the locomotive does not follow any regular pattern, too. The locomotive goes its own way and nobody can stop it. That becomes clear in line 34: “Law of thyself complete, thine own track firmly holding.” And also the sound of the locomotive is described as lawless (line 30: “Roll through my chant with all thy lawless music, […]”)
The theme of “To a Locomotive in Winter” is foreshadowed by its headline. Straight from the beginning it is clear to the reader that the poem is about a locomotive and that the speaker talks to this locomotive. In form of address he gives a detailed description of how it sounds, looks like and works. The speaker points out how strong and good-working the engine is. In line 2 it is described that the locomotive drives through the bad weather. “Thee in the driving storm even as now, the snow, the winter-day declining.” “Now” and “Snow” is an eye-rhyme and emphasises, that the winter is still there. But “declining” indicates that the winter will be over soon and something new will be introduced. That can be either just summer days or maybe a certain fortune. Maybe a fortune of science. Because in line 21 it becomes clear that the locomotive is a symbol for the technical progress of America. It is described as “Type of the modern – emblem of motion and power – pulse of the continent.” That line speaks for itself. The locomotive is an emblem of motion and power and so it has enough strength to drive the technical fortune. The continent mentioned must be America because the author was born in America. He lived there from 1819 till 1892 so he was alive during the era of scientific fortune.
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