Travel Poems and the Places That Inspired Them
Like traveling, a poem takes you out of the mundane, day-to-day grind and gives you beauty, wonder and excitement. Like returning from a trip, a good poem leaves you with a sense of the world's possibilities and renewed appreciation for life.
It’s no surprise then that location, landscape, and traveling are traditional subjects for poetry. But while traveling inspires poetry, poetry can also inspire travel.
We've chosen a few of our favorite poems that are sure to make you want to hit the road (even if you don’t want to compose a sonnet afterward.) Here are four poems inspired by travel which we hope will inspire you.
A Passage to India by Walt Whitman
While the New York native Walt Whitman was a well-known advocate for the grandeur of the United States, his subject matter wasn't limited to America. This section from his famous poem A Passage to India captures the thrill and adventure of traversing the Suez Canal through Egypt:
"Sail forth— steer for the deep waters only,
Reckless O soul, exploring, I with thee, and thou with me,
For we are bound where mariner has not yet dared to go,
And we will risk the ship, ourselves and all."
The Suez Canal remains crucial to international trade and is one of the busiest man-made waterways in the world. Whitman, in addition to being inspired by that great work of modern commerce, also found poetic impulse from Egyptian culture.
A visit to Egypt offers endless opportunities to experience relics of ancient civilization amongst thriving modern life. The Pyramids of Giza, the Sphinx and the Egyptian Museum are all among the most popular tourist sites in the world for a reason.
Traveling Again by Du Fu
Du Fu, considered one of the most important Chinese poets, is also the oldest poet on our list. Living from 712 to 770 AD, he was affected by political unrest, famines and war which forced him to travel for much of his life.
While the reasons for his journey's were often tragic, Du Fu still found beauty on the road. In 'Traveling Again' you can feel his bittersweet emotions as he visited Jue Xiu Si (Temple of Awakened Cultivation) in Chengdu:
"I remember the temple, this route I’ve traveled before,
I recall the bridge as I cross it again.
It seems the hills and rivers have been waiting,
The flowers and willows all are selfless now.
The field is sleek and vivid, thin mist shines,
On soft sand, the sunlight’s color shows it’s late.
All the traveler’s sorrow fades away,
What better place to rest than this?"
Chengdu remains an important cultural hub in Sichuan, China. The city’s skyline is a towering field of pastel skyscrapers set against ancient mountains.
You can visit Buddhist temples like the one Du Fu visited, such as the Wenshu Temple, or see giant pandas up close at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding.
Kentucky Belle (Told in An Ohio Farm-House, 1868) by Constance Fenimore Woolson
Constance Fenimore Woolson spent much of her life in the American south and midwest, and it shows in her writing. Kentucky Belle is a poem telling the story of a young wife moving from Tennessee to Ohio, who must give up her much-loved horse, Kentucky Belle, on the journey:
"I kissed the star on her forehead-my pretty, gentle lass-
But I knew that she'd be happy back in the old Bluegrass;
A suit of clothes of Conrad's, with all the money I had,
And Kentuck, pretty Kentuck, I gave to the worn-out lad.
I guided him to the southward as well as I knew how;
The boy rode off with many thanks, and many a backward bow;
And then the glow it faded, and my heart began to swell,
As down the glen away she went, my lost Kentucky Belle!"
You can almost feel the heartbreak the author experienced as she watched her prized horse head southward to the bluegrass that Kentucky is known for. While Kentucky isn’t as famous a tourist destination as Egypt, the state offers plenty of poetic inspiration.
Plan a trip during the Kentucky Derby to see the continued connection between the Bluegrass State and horses, or sip your way down the Bourbon trail to experience some of the finest whiskey in the world.
Vacation by Rita Dove
Former US poet laureate Rita Dove often writes about landscapes and traveling. While some of her other poems focus on specific destinations, in “Vacation”, she finds inspiration from her fellow travelers waiting in an airport:
"I love the hour before takeoff,
that stretch of no time, no home
but the gray vinyl seats linked like
unfolding paper dolls.” . . .
. . . “He’ll dine out, she’ll sleep late,
they’ll let the sun burn them happy all morning
—a little hope, a little whimsy
before the loudspeaker blurts
and we leap up to become
Flight 828, now boarding at Gate 17."
Waiting for a plane, a traveler is out of their normal context and routine, dressed in anonymous traveling clothes. The woman waiting next to you could be almost anyone. You could be going almost anywhere. The blandness of an airport is a blank page for an infinite number of stories to begin – if you just book that flight.
What poetry has inspired you to travel?