The travel itch and finding Edna St. Vincent Millay’s poetry

Back when I travelled every week, I bemoaned the time I spent in planes and trains and behind the wheel of a car. I especially resented the time I spent waiting in airports and train stations, neither in motion nor at rest. I told myself that, one day, I wouldn’t have to travel. I could stay home and just be.

That day arrived about eighteen months ago and mostly it’s been good. I don’t miss the airports or the planes or the trains crowded with the anxious and the tired.

Then, four months ago, Lockdown flipped me from not wanting or needing travel, to not being allowed to travel. That was when I came to understand that part of the joy of being home is the ability to leave.

I knew the Lockdown made sense. I like where I live. I had nowhere that I needed to travel to; yet knowing I couldn’t travel made me restless.

Today, I was working off my restlessness by flipping through poetry books, looking for something that spoke to me and I found ‘Travel’ by Edna St. Vincent Millay and went, ‘Yes! That’s it. That’s what I’ve been feeling’.

Here’s the poem:

Travel
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 the 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.

I think that’s wonderful. Three short verses that capture the way the desire to be moving, to be somewhere new, builds up inside you like water reaching the boil until travel feels as inevitable as steam.

I’d never heard of Edna St. Vincent Millay, which could just be a sign of my ignorance of it could be a sign of how women, even Pulitzer Prize-winning women, get erased from history.

Edna St. Vincent Millay

I looked her up on Wikipedia here and it seems to me she’s the kind of woman I should have heard of so I’ve started to erode my ignorance by buying a copy of one of her early books of verse, ‘A Few Figs From Thistles’. I’ve only read the first poem and I’m already smiling at Edna St. Vincent Millay’s exuberance. Here it is.

FIRST FIG 
by Edna St. Vincent Millay

My candle burns at both ends;
   It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends–
   It gives a lovely light!

Reading Edna St. Vincent Millay may not be travel but it feeds the same restlessness, so I’m glad I met her today.

One thought on “The travel itch and finding Edna St. Vincent Millay’s poetry

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