Journey to the Interior Poem by Margaret Atwood Summary, Notes and Line by Line Explanation in English for Students


The poem “Journey to the Interior” is written by Margaret Atwood. The poem is an extended metaphor for the life journey taken by the poet herself. The poem talks about the mind as a unique and dynamic region. It is complex and hard to comprehend. Our brain thinks of a plethora of thoughts and is surrounded by regions of the unknown. The poet talks about how it is dangerous for a person to navigate this unknown region all alone, as it is easy to get lost in the mysterious forest. The poet talks about talking a journey into her own mind in order to get inspiration for her work, but is very careful to not get lost because otherwise she will be lost froever.

About the poet

Margaret Eleanor Atwood was born in 1939 in Ottawa, Canada. She is a Canadian writer, poet, critic and teacher. She is also an inventor. She is also the founder of the Griffin Poetry Prize and the Writer’s Trust of Canada. She has written and pun;joshed numerous books and poetry collections. Some of her writings have also won many awards like the Booker Prize, the Franz Kafka Prize and the National Book Critics award. Some of her most notable works include “The Handmaid’s Tale”, “The Blind Assassin” and “The Testaments”.


The poem is written in free-verse. It is divided into 2 parts. The first part consists of 3 long stanzas. The second part of the poem is made up of 4 small stanzas. The poem is written in the lyric form.

Lines 1-12

There are similarities

I notice: that the hills

which the eyes make flat as a wall, welded

together, open as I move

to let me through; become

endless as prairies; that the trees

grow spindly, have their roots

often in swamps; that this is a poor country;

that a cliff is not known

as rough except by hand, and is

therefore inaccessible. Mostly

that travel is not the easy going


The speaker begins by observing some similarities. She says that she can notice some identical aspects in the scenery before her. She says that the hills that looked flat and two dimensional like a wall, welded into each other, start to open up as she walks through them. The hills move about and make room for the speaker as she passes through them. The still and static landscape of the hills turn into lush prairies that are present endlessly in the vast expanse of the hills. The trees also grow spindly in varying shapes and their roots are stretched into the swamps. She says that these hills and the trees look like they are a part of a poor country. This country is filled with cliffs and is known to be rough and inaccessible. The country has a challenging and harsh environment which makes traveling there very difficult.


In this stanza, the poet, while describing the landscape, uses the hills as a metaphor for the human mind in her journey of self-discovery. The hills are initially seem flat to the observer. But as the poet moves through them, they open up and reveal their vastness. This transformation mirrors the complexities of the human mind. The poet also mentions the other elements present in the landscape like the lush prairies and spindly trees. The comparison of trees growing spindly with roots in swamps is made to highlight the challenges and difficulties that occur in understanding oneself.

The poet comments that the hills are like a poor country. The mention of poor the landscape and inaccessible reflects the obstacles in exploring the depths of one’s own mind. Moreover, the poet talks about the cliff’s roughness which can be known only by touch to symbolize the complexities that may not be apparent at first glance. 

Lines 13-20

from point to point, a dotted

line on a map, location

plotted on a square surface

but that I move surrounded by a tangle

of branches, a net of air and alternate

light and dark, at all times;

that there are no destinations

apart from this.


The speaker discovers how at first glance, the landscape looks like points on a dotted map. As she moves through the hills, it seems as if she is moving from one point onto the next. She seems to be following a dotted line of a two-dimensional map. The location that Ashe wants to go to looks like a square plotted on the surface of the map. But when she actually moves through the complex environment, she is surrounded by a tangle of trees and their branches. Through the tangle of branches she can feel the shifting of air, which alternates between light and dark. In this place, the speaker says, there are no specific destinations. Instead, every journey is an ongoing experience that one undertakes.


In this stanza, the poet talks about how, initially, the scenery looks like points on a dotted map. This image is used to suggest that in the beginning it looks like a straightforward and predictable path to self-discovery. However, as the poet moves through the hills, she realizes that the journey is not as straightforward as it seemed. The hills, just like the human mind, transform into a dynamic and multidimensional space. In these hills, the poet feels the tangle of branches and the ever moving wind. The tangle of branches and the net of air symbolize the delicate and ever-shifting nature of thoughts and experiences. At the same time, the alternating light and dark signify the constant movement of emotions and perceptions.

The poet ends this stanza by talking about how there is no destination at the end of the journey. This absence of specific destinations emphasizes that the journey of self-discovery is ongoing, with every moment contributing to the overall experience. 

Lines 21-29

There are differences

of course: the lack of reliable charts;

more important, the distraction of small details:

your shoe among the brambles under the chair

where it shouldn’t be; lucent

white mushrooms and a paring knife

on the kitchen table; a sentence

crossing my path, sodden as a fallen log

I’m sure I passed yesterday


In these lines, the speaker acknowledges differences in the journey of self-discovery. The one notable difference she finds is the absence of reliable charts which emphasize the unpredictability of navigating the complexities of the mind. More significantly, the speaker notes that there are distractions posed by many small details, such as a misplaced shoe, mushrooms, and a paring knife on the kitchen table. These details become points of focus. These small yet insignificant details can have disastrous effects and deviate you from the intended path. She comes across a sentence on her journey. This sentence is sodden like a fallen log, which she is sure she has passed already. This highlights that she may have lost her way and is going in circles, walking past the same objects again and again. This highlights the momentary obstacle, possibly a thought or realization, that disrupt the journey.


In this stanza, the poet delves deeper into the differences in her journey of self-discovery. She notices that there are no charts that she can rely on. The absence of reliable charts symbolizes the lack of clear guidance or a structured path. This highlights how unpredictable and complex the journey within the human mind is. The poet then shifts the focus to the distractions caused by seemingly insignificant details, like a misplaced shoe or mushrooms on the kitchen table.

These details become significant points of focus later on. They have the ability to potentially cause deviation from the intended path. The poet talks about passing the same sentence yesterday. This highlights the potential challenges of navigating one’s thoughts and experiences. The sentence is described as sodden like a fallen log. This introduces the idea of a thought or realization that disrupts the journey, suggesting a possible sense of confusion or being stuck in a repetitive cycle. 

Lines 30-44

(have I been

walking in circles again?)

but mostly the danger:

many have been here, but only

some have returned safely.

A compass is useless; also

trying to take directions

from the movements of the sun,

which are erratic;

and words here are as pointless

as calling in a vacant wilderness.

Whatever I do I must

keep my head. I know

it is easier for me to lose my way

forever here, than in other landscapes


In these concluding lines, the speaker expresses the uncertainty and danger in her journey of self-discovery. She questions whether she has been walking in circles. This highlights  the potential for confusion or repetition in this complex mental landscape. She says that the danger lies in the fact that many have dared to explore this world, but only some have safely returned. To safely walk through the unknown region of the mind, traditional tools like a compass or following the sun’s erratic movements prove useless. She calls the “Words” pointless in this vast and vacant mental wilderness. The speaker emphasizes the importance of keeping a clear head because losing one’s way in this inner landscape seems more likely compared to other, perhaps more familiar, environments.


In this concluding stanza, the poet again emphasizes on the uncertainty and peril in her journey of self-discovery within the metaphorical hills of her mind. The poet questions herself and thinks that she is walking in circles. This reflects the high chance of confusion and repetition that can occur when one gets lost on the path to discovering themselves. This danger is emphasized by the acknowledgment of the fact that many have ventured into this realm, but only a few have safely returned. Traditional tools, like a compass or following the sun, are useless according to the poet.

As advice, she puts emphasis on keeping a clear head. This is very important given the challenging nature of navigating this unfamiliar landscape, where losing one’s way seems more likely compared to more familiar environments.