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Vachel Lindsay's "The Traveller-Heart"

Updated on December 17, 2017
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After I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962, poetry became my passion.

Vachel Lindsay

Source

Introduction and Text of Poem, "The Traveller-Heart"

Vachel Lindsay's "The Traveller-Heart" offers a rebuttal to the sentiment expressed in his epigraph: "To a Man who maintained that the Mausoleum is the Stateliest Possible Manner of Interment."

The speaker in "The Traveller-Heart" dramatizes burial in the ground as a means to a metaphorical continued existence. The speaker's fanciful travels after death focus on the very atoms of his physical flesh, as well as the possible movement of the informing energy or soul. His take on immortality is somewhat broadened from the ordinary variety.

The Traveller-Heart

(To a Man who maintained that the Mausoleum is the Stateliest Possible Manner of Interment)

I would be one with the dark, dark earth:—
Follow the plough with a yokel tread.
I would be part of the Indian corn,
Walking the rows with the plumes o'erhead.

I would be one with the lavish earth,
Eating the bee-stung apples red:
Walking where lambs walk on the hills;
By oak-grove paths to the pools be led.

I would be one with the dark-bright night
When sparkling skies and the lightning wed—
Walking on with the vicious wind
By roads whence even the dogs have fled.

I would be one with the sacred earth
On to the end, till I sleep with the dead.
Terror shall put no spears through me.
Peace shall jewel my shroud instead.

I shall be one with all pit-black things
Finding their lowering threat unsaid:
Stars for my pillow there in the gloom,—
Oak-roots arching about my head!

Stars, like daisies, shall rise through the earth,
Acorns fall round my breast that bled.
Children shall weave there a flowery chain,
Squirrels on acorn-hearts be fed:—

Fruit of the traveller-heart of me,
Fruit of my harvest-songs long sped:
Sweet with the life of my sunburned days
When the sheaves were ripe, and the apples red.

Reading of Lindsay's "The Traveller-Heart"

Commentary

First Stanza: Sticking With the Old-Fashioned Way

I would be one with the dark, dark earth:—
Follow the plough with a yokel tread.
I would be part of the Indian corn,
Walking the rows with the plumes o'erhead.

Unlike the unidentified man who claimed that being interred in a mausoleum was the "Stateliest Possible Manner of Interment," the speaker who has a traveler's heart finds the old-fashioned earth burial more suitable to his wandering ways.

Instead of resting in a cold marble facility, the speaker prefers to be "one with the dark, dark earth." But he will not rest in that earth, he plans to "follow the plough with a yokel tread." The speaker dramatizes the molecules of his decomposed body as they become part of the soil.

But the speaker's imagination continues as he becomes the nutrients in "part of the Indian corn." He fantasizes his wish to be "Walking the rows with the plumes o'erhead."

Second Stanza: Becoming One With the Earth

I would be one with the lavish earth,
Eating the bee-stung apples red:
Walking where lambs walk on the hills;
By oak-grove paths to the pools be led.

Again, the speaker stresses his desire to be "one with the lavish earth." He likes the idea of his atoms "eating the bee-stung apples" and "walking where lambs walk on the hills."

With the sheep and the bees, his particles will be steered through "oak-grove paths to pools" of water.

Third Stanza: Atoms Mixing With the Winds

I would be one with the dark-bright night
When sparkling skies and the lightning wed—
Walking on with the vicious wind
By roads whence even the dogs have fled.

On stormy nights with lightning in the skies, the speaker's atoms will mix with the "vicious wind." But he has the advantage over dogs, in that he can remain part of the scene from which "the dogs have fled."

So not only does the speaker anticipate being one with earth, but he will also be able to float up from it on occasion.

Fourth Stanza: Prefers to Be One With the Earth

I would be one with the sacred earth
On to the end, till I sleep with the dead.
Terror shall put no spears through me.
Peace shall jewel my shroud instead.

The speaker again repeats that he "would be one with the sacred earth." And he will remain this way until "[he] sleep[s] with the dead."

Here the speaker contemplates the state of his soul, and he understands that "Terror shall put no spears through me. / Peace shall jewel my shroud instead."

Fifth Stanza: No Despairing of Darkness

I shall be one with all pit-black things
Finding their lowering threat unsaid:
Stars for my pillow there in the gloom,—
Oak-roots arching about my head!

The speaker then fancies that when he is in his grave in the earth, he will be "one with all pit-black things."

But the speaker will not despair the darkness, because he imagines he will have "stars for [his] pillow there in the gloom, — / Oak-roots arching about [his] head!"

Sixth Stanza: Life Goes on Around Him

Stars, like daisies, shall rise through the earth,
Acorns fall round my breast that bled.
Children shall weave there a flowery chain,
Squirrels on acorn-hearts be fed:—

The stars will be "daisies" and will "rise through the earth." Nuts from the oak tree will fall "round [his] breast."

Children will be present, "weav[ing] there a flowery chain," while squirrels eat the acorns.

Seventh Stanza: One With Earth to Cure Wanderlust

Fruit of the traveller-heart of me,
Fruit of my harvest-songs long sped:
Sweet with the life of my sunburned days
When the sheaves were ripe, and the apples red.

The speaker imagines his desire to be a wanderer will be fulfilled by being buried and becoming one with the dynamic earth. In death, his soul will reap the "fruit of the traveller-heart of me."

The speaker's body will become "fruit of [his] harvest-songs" and "sweet with the life of [his] sunburned days."

The speaker dramatizes his body's return to the soil, as his soul feasts on all the delights of sweetness and light the "sacred earth" and the after-death experience can offer.

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes

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