MELODIC TRAINS (CRITICAL APPRECIATION)
Melodic Trains is a poem of music and musings (thoughts). It captures its metaphors and symbols from the experience of traveling by train. Ashbery compares this to the journey of life and tries to establish that common worries consume too much of our energies and leave us little time to see that others have similar problems which we can share and lessen. The corner stone of his poem is the question that occurs in the middle of the poem: “Why couldn’t/we have been more considerate?”
The title of the poem sets a tone of harmony and concord. The trains are melodic not because the round of the wheels is so rhythmic, but because Ashbery sees all passengers as his brothers. He empathizes with them and feels that on our individual journey of life we must share each others’ experiences and together establish a world more in harmony with love, happiness, and brotherhood. This is possible only if everyone hears and shares the music of life. Thus all the complaints of his fellow passengers “strikes silver bells” in his heart.
The poem has the form of a reverie started by a little girl’s asking the poet what time it is the poet muses that the watch she is wearing is a toy, which she is wearing to show that she is grown up. This starts a chain of musings in which the poet thinks that the “tweed” coat and pipe he has put on establish him only as an actor playing a serious role. These clothes hardly show what kind of person is hidden inside. This helps Ashbery bring the comparison of people as “unfathomable valleys” that must be explored. They live before the background of huge mountains.
Ashbery equates the train to a “pencil guided by a ruler” to show that life seems certain and planned and the way seems “flat” and smooth against the “photomural of the Alps”. On this journey the distances between stations and those between passengers intrigue the poet. In his typical way of paradoxical statements Ashbery thinks that personal distances...