Children play with miniature trains, cars, trucks and video games with gleeful imagination and control.

It’s easy to picture a child engaged in building and watching an electric toy locomotive in Emily Dickinson’s “I like to see it lap the Miles —”. The poem seems to reflect a child’s experiments with power through symbols of a world conceivable by its boundaries.

I like to see it lap the Miles — 

And lick the Valleys up — 

And stop to feed itself at Tanks — 

And then —  prodigious step

Around a Pile of Mountains — 

And supercilious peer

In Shanties — by the sides of Roads — 

And then a Quarry pare

To fit its sides

And crawl between

Complaining all the while

In horrid — hooting stanza — 

Then chase itself down Hill — 

And neigh like Boanerges — 

Then — prompter than a Star

Stop — docile and omnipotent

At its own stable door — 

When my son was a little boy having to endure the perils of childhood grief after his sister, older by four years, had died, he spent hours with his train set. He built little fuel tanks for it to “stop to feed itself”, little mountains, tiny “Shanties — by the sides of Roads — ”, lakes and quarries, trees and even a perfect-in-scale cemetery.

I used to watch with him, our thoughts afloat, as he flipped the toy’s “stop” switch, to see whether the caboose would stay on its track.  The poem’s use of words that recall the sight of a galloping horse, who “neigh(s) like Boanerges —”, reiterates and anticipates the wild images my grandson now craves in video games.

Digest A Poem A Day — Accept What Comes Your Way