Night Journey Poem by Theodore Roethke Summary, Notes and Line by Line Explanation in English for Students


The poem “Night Journey” was written by Theodore Roethko. The poem was published in his poetry collection Open House, in 1941. It was the first collection of his poems. The poem describes a passenger experience of travelling on a train at night. It is a beautiful love that shows the poet’s love towards the American country side.

About the Poet:

Theodore Roethke was a great American poet. His collections of poetry are critically admired. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1954 for his collection named The Waking (1953). He also won the National Book Award twice for his works Words for the Wind (1958) and The Far Field (1964). Roethke is one of the highly influential American poets of the 20th-century. His work has been praised by many poets worldwide.


The poem “Night Journey” by Theodore Roethke is a free verse poem. It comprises twenty seven lines in total. It describes the speaker’s train journey. The poet has written this poem using only the present tense. So, it helps the readers visualise and understand the speaker’s journey and his emotions.


The poet composed this poem using an iambic trimeter. Each line of the poem contains six syllables which is divided into three iambs. 

Now as/ the train/ bears west,

Its rhy/-thm rocks/ the earth,

In these lines we can see six syllables and the stress falls on the second syllable with some variations.

Speaker of the poem:

The poem “Nights Journey” is a poem about a passenger’s train journey. The poem is written from the viewpoint of the passenger. The poem is written from the first person point of view.

I wake in every nerve.

I watch a beacon swing

Here, the poet has used the first person pronoun “I” to indicate this. The readers can even imagine a poet to be the speaker of the poem.

Poem Analysis:

Lines 1-13:

Now as the train bears west,

Its rhythm rocks the earth,

And from my Pullman berth

I stare into the night

While others take their rest.

Bridges of iron lace,

A suddenness of trees,

A lap of mountain mist

All cross my line of sight,

Then a bleak wasted place,

And a lake below my knees.

Full on my neck I feel

The straining at a curve;

The speaker of the poem is travelling on the train towards the west. The speaker is taking this trip at nighttime. The speaker describes the incessant motion of the wheels. While others are sleeping in their berths, the speaker is staring at the sky. He is watching the outside view from his seat. He talks about the railway bridge of the train. In the next line, he describes how the motion of the train makes the trees move.  He talks about the mountains and lake.  He admires all the natural elements like the motion of trees, mountains, and lakes from the train. The speed motion of the train causes strain in  the speaker’s neck. 

My muscles move with steel,

I wake in every nerve.

I watch a beacon swing

From dark to blazing bright;

We thunder through ravines

And gullies washed with light.

Beyond the mountain pass

Mist deepens on the pane;

The speaker continues to describe his journey in the train. He feels that his muscles are making movements according to the train’s motion. He describes how he stays alert in the train. Already, he is awake and watching the views. Yet, here “I wake in every nerve” describes his alertness. The speaker is not only staring at the sky but he is also observing the light of the train. Though the train moves very fast, he is observing all the things outside as much as he can. The speaker uses the pronoun “we” to denote that he is not alone but he is watching everything along with the train. Here, he thinks of trains as his friend.

We rush into a rain

That rattles double glass.

Wheels shake the roadbed stone,

The pistons jerk and shove,

I stay up half the night

To see the land I love.

The speaker says that they are rushing. Here “rush” refers to the speed of the train. The phrase “rattles double glass’ ‘ indicates the glass window in his berth that separates him from the outside place. In the last few lines he says how the trains movement is disturbing the road bed. The speaker was awake half the night to see the land he loves.