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Explication: Night Journey

May 25, 2010 · 3 Comments · Poem Analysis

Night Train

In the poem Night Journey, author Theodore Roethke uses contrasting imagery and symbolism to build up to his main idea about “the land [he] love[s].” As the speaker looks at the night scenery, he sees “Bridges of iron lace” and then immediately “A suddenness of trees [and]/A lap of mountain mist”. Iron bridges are the epitome of man-made creation, while forest surrounding by mist have a very natural, spiritual image; by placing them side by side, Roethke puts emphasis on their differences. Immediately after these lines describes a “bleak wasted space”, a barren landscape which is not considered beautiful at all. He doesn’t consider one more worth mentioning than another, and their differences are what defines the “land [he] love[s]“. However, this night journey isn’t merely a train ride: the journey is a symbol for the speaker’s journey through life. The iron bridge, which represents all the metaphorical bridges we build and cross during our lives, the forest and the mountain shrouded in mist, which represent the times when we lost our way, and the bleak space, which represents all of our wasted opportunities and regrets, are all part of life, and so we must come to love them. Just as life has a rhythm, the train has a rhythm (that “rocks the earth”), and is emphasized by the continuous iambic triameter throughout the poem. All of the things the man sees on his journey and has experienced in life has built up to his final conclusion: a love for his “land”, and an appreciation for all the things that it consists of, beautiful because of its many differences.


  • lexivhs6

    Wow, this was a great response. It helped me to understand the poem much better. I couldn’t see what the underlying message was in this poem, and your response helped me to do so. I can totally see how it can be a symbol for the speaker’s journey through life.

  • Sabrina H2

    Nice response! You can tell that you have a great grasp on the poem, I like how you used the phrase “Just as life has a rhythm, the train has a rhythm” I had looked over that before so nice catch!

  • julianageranpilon

    I am very interested in the photo of the train and would like to use it for a book cover. Do you happen to have an original source? I would also like to cite your interesting interpretation of the poem. How would I identify you?

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