Edna St. Vincent Millay grew up in rural Maine. But readers ofthis poem will not be surprised that soon after she graduated from Vassar College, she moved to New York City to see more of the world.
The yearning to ride the train, to see the country from the window of a rattling passenger car, is strong in these lines. No matter where it’s going, Millay writes, she’ll hop on a train. That kind of wanderlust wasn’t often voiced by women of that era. St. Vincent Millay was a modernist poet, and a progressive advocate for women’s rights.
Men, women, and children of America caught the train bug in the 1800s. From 1830 to 1949, Ellicott City was a bustling hub of railroad tourism.
When the B&O built its track along the National Road from Baltimore’s Mount Clare Station to Ellicott City’s quaint granite depot, railroad officials were not planning for the hordes of sightseers who flocked to ride the iron horse.
The nation’s first common-carrier railway, which means the train took both passengers and freight on a ride, was built to compete with the Erie Canal. But while they built the railwayto carry goods from Ohio to Baltimore and back again, railroad officials were surprised by the number of people who showed up in Baltimore to pay their 75 cents—round trip—to ride to Ellicott City.
The tracks sparked a summer tourism season. Overheated Baltimore residents rode the rails to cooler spots in the Patapsco Valley, and ate 2,500 gallons of ice cream a season at Howard House, a restaurant on Main Street. The train would pull up to the second story of the Patapsco Hotel, discharging passengers onto a side porch, for a tiny taste of the kind of travel that Millay imagined.
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.
“Travel” was published in 1921. This poem is in the public domain.