Comparison between the “Incident” and the “Travel” Poems
Keep looking straight at me.
Now I was eight and very small,
And he was no whit bigger,
And so I smiled, but he poked out
His tongue, and called me, “Nigger.”
I saw the whole of Baltimore
From May until December;
Of all the things that happened there
That’s all that I remember.
By Edna St. Vincent Millay
The railroad track is miles away,
And the day is loud with voices speaking,
Yet there isn’t a train goes by all day
But I hear its whistle shrieking.
All night there isn’t a train goes by,
Though the night is still for sleep and dreaming,
But I see its cinders red on the sky,
And hear its engine steaming.
My heart is warm with friends I make,
And better friends I’ll not be knowing;
Yet there isn’t a train I wouldn’t take,
No matter where it’s going.
Comparison between the two poems above
The first aspect to compare between the two poems above is the themes portrayed. In the first poem, “Incident” highlights the theme of racial discrimination. The speaker in the poem tells the audience how he was travelling in a bus when he encountered an event that he says that he is unlikely to forget. He says that while in the bus travelling to Baltimore, his happiness suddenly turned to sadness when a young boy of his age called him a Niger. In stanza three, the speaker says, “……but he poked out His tongue, and called me, “Niger”. Niger is a word that is used to sarcastically insult African-Americans living in America. The speaker felt so sad and in the next eight months (from May to December) that he spent in Baltimore; he cannot remember anything else but that annoying incident. In stanza four of the poem, the speaker confirms that he can never forget. He says, “….From May to December; of all the things that happened there, That’s all that I remember”.
On the other hand, the theme in the second poem, “Travel”, is that of discontentment. The speaker describes her feelings to the audience. She says in stanza three“My heart is warm with the friends I make, And better friends I’ll not be knowing”. In these lines, the speaker says that although she is presently happy with the friends that she has; she thinks the friends that she has not met already may be better. This is a clear indication of dissatisfaction that the speaker expresses.
It is also important to analyze the choice of the titles of the poems that the authors use and find out how relevant they are to the poem. The title that the author chooses carries too much weight in the understanding of the poem. The theme of the poem is highlighted in the title, albeit hidden and, therefore, identified after reading the whole poem. In the first poem, the title is “Incident”. The literal meaning of this word is a happening that is unusual. In this poem, the speaker describes an unusual happening that apparently happened to him. In his context, the speaker experienced an incident. Therefore, the title is very relevant to the poem. In the second poem, the title is “Travel”. The word travel means movement from one location to another. In the poem, the speaker is discontented by her present state. She longs to move to the next level. She uses train metaphorically to indicate that she wants to cease the next opportunity available and move to the next level. Therefore, the title captures this desire of the speaker so vividly and, therefore, in the context of the theme in this poem, it is very relevant.
The other aspect that needs comparison in these two poems is the choice of the language. The language that the author uses is aimed at making the poem interesting to the reader while bringing out the desired message. In the first poem, “Incident”, the author chooses to use the first person “I” in the poem. He allows the speaker to tell the audience about this incident in a direct manner. The reader, who is the audience, is able to connect with the speaker when the speaker talks about himself. For instance, in stanza two, the speaker says, “Now I was eight and very young,…..”. The speaker informs the audience that, at the time of the incident that happened to him, he was eight years old and was very small. Incidentally, the second poem also uses the first person “I”. The speaker tells the audience about her feelings. This style improves the connection between the audience and the speaker because the poem is about the speaker.
In addition, the two poems have used contracted language in several instances. In the first poem, there is the use of “That’s” instead of “That is” in the last stanza line four. This makes the poem informal and makes the readers connect with the speaker easily, especially in the modern times. In the second poem, instances of contractions are numerous. For example, there is the use of “I’ll” instead of “I will”, “isn’t” instead of “is not” and “it’s” instead of “it is” in the last stanza. Again, this contraction makes the poem informal. In the modern times, the poem becomes understandable. The choice of contractions is deliberate. The contractions make the number of syllables in the lines where they are equal to the rest of the lines.
Another aspect of the poems that is worth comparison is the use of the rhyme technique in the poems. Both poems have a regular rhyme pattern that serve to make them more interesting to read. The rhyme pattern in the first poem is ABCB. To illustrate this rhyming pattern, it is necessary to pick the last words in one stanza. In this case, the last stanza has last words as “…Baltimore, …December, …there and …remember”. In the case of the second poem, the rhyme pattern is ABAB. The last stanza has the last words as “…make, …knowing, …..take and ….knowing”. The words illustrate the regular rhyme pattern. The same patterns are repeated throughout the poems. The regular rhyme pattern help make the poem rhythmical and lyrical.
It is important to compare the mood in each, and the tone used in either poem. In the first poem, the mood is jovial initially as depicted in the first and the second stanza. The speaker expresses his joy when he smiles at the stranger boy. However, the mood changes to sadness after the speaker is insulted by the boy when he calls him Nigger. As the mood changes, so does the tone. It starts as joyfully to a somber one. In the second poem, the tone is optimistic. The speaker is optimistic and hopeful of a better future. However, there is some tinge of negativity in the tone in the first two stanzas. This negative tone expresses speaker’s dissatisfaction about her current status.
The first poem uses imagery when the speaker tells the audience how he saw a boy staring straight at him. He smiled at him. The reader can vividly see the mental image of the speaker smiling at the stranger. In the second poem, the author employs metaphor by using a train to signify different paths in life. The speaker says that “…..Yet there isn’t a train I wouldn’t take, No matter where it’s going” in the last stanza. It means that the speaker is willing to take any path in life although there is no opportunity that is presenting itself. In addition, the second poem has employed personification in the first stanza when the speaker implies that the Train “whistling” and “shrieking”.
The two poems have so much in common. The similarities emanate from the choice of the language and the styles employed. Therefore, it is clear that poets have one thing in common as far as their writing skills are concerned. They have a rich background of poetry techniques. They always employ them appropriately to suit the message intended to be delivered.
St, John R. A. Explorations in Literature. Greenville, S.C: BJU Press, 2013. Print.