Planes, Trains, Automobiles and Poets

Adam O’Riordan believes the reasons why poets take trains are: they are “notoriously bad drivers” and “planes are prohibitively expensive” (Why Poets Take Trains by Adam O’Riordan, Guardian Books Blog).   Unfortunately, I am a notoriously bad driver and planes are prohibitively expensive, but I prefer traveling by train because they harken back to a more nostalgic, romantic era (the train scenes in movies like A Man and a Woman (Un Homme et Une Femme) and Love Jones, Howie Day’s music video, Collide,and the episode in the TV series, Family Ties, when Alex proposes to Ellen) before the days of congested super highways and clover leafs.  On a train, you can sit back, let yourself be lulled by the rhythmic clackety-clack of the wheels on the rails into a meditative state conducive for thinking or daydreaming, as you watch the scenery pass by.

I find it unnatural to be hurdling through space in a car at 60-70 m.p.h.  After I reach my destination, it always takes my body a few minutes to adjust and slow down back to pedestrian mode. Buses are not much better than cars, but at least you can sit back and watch the side of the highway whiz past or read a book or take a nap. Taxis are merely a necessary convenience (especially when you’re in the city).

The mode of transportation I most prefer is walking–using my own two feet to get me from point A to point B.  If I don’t have a particular destination to get to, then I like to ramble, especially through the fields and alongside the river near where I live and listen to the birds, the wind blowing through the trees, the hum of a bee and the gurgle of the water; feeling the breeze and sun on my face and the ground under my feet; and smelling the scents of grass, wildflowers and pine trees–all the things I would miss if I were driving with the windows rolled up, the air conditioner cranked up and the radio on. Frost’s “The Road Less Traveled” would have turned out a whole lot different (if at all) if he had been driving.

Virgil said to Dante that, “Art strives after her [Nature] by imitation as the disciple imitates the master, Art, as it were, is the Grandchild of Creation” (Cantos XI, The Divine Comedy (The Inferno, The Purgatorio, and The Paradiso).  If our poetic art is to strive after nature by imitation, then walking, especially rambling, gets us out into close contact with her.  One major aspect of Wordsworth’s The Prelude is the revelation of how nature plays a formative influence in the making of the poet.

Walking, I believe, also provides a natural rhythm conducive to thinking, and the sights, sounds, smells and sensations of nature can stimulate and foster poetic thought and inspiration (e.g., Keats’ “Ode to a Nightingale” and “To Autumn”; Shelley’s “The Cloud”, “The Flower that Smiles Today” and “To a Sky-lark”; and Coleridge’s “To a Nightingale”.)

In Thoreau’s long essay, Walking, he ruminates on civilized man’s relationship to nature and comes to realize that “in the wilderness is the preservation of the world.”  By walking and finding poetic inspiration from nature, our poems can also become the preservation of the world.

In a quiet woodland glen
With a crust of bread, a bit of cheese and pure spring water,
This pen, a bottle of ink and sheaves of crisp, white paper.
Undisturbed to compose my humble songs to heart’s content
From early dawn till the sun rides high and bright,
Then off into the shadowed woods I’ll wander,
Stopping beside a brook to rest awhile and ponder,
Reclining under the pine-scented boughs to my soul’s delight.
When the sun begins its slow descent, I’ll make my way
Back home to dine on simple fare as if at some kingly feast.
There under the starlit night on a flute of wood I’ll play,
Then off to bed I’ll go to dream sweet dreams so innocent
In a cabin tucked away in a quiet woodland glen.
© Poeticmeditations 2010.  All rights reserved.)
 A personally signed copy of this poem can be ordered at PoeticExpressions.

About poeticmeditations

A 19th-century romantic poet living in the 21st-century. The Romantic poets, nib pens, candlelight, waistcoats, and pocket watches are a few of my favorite things.
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