It is invariably the case that all travelers will encounter, at least once on their journey, a moment of such singular significance that words can serve only to fail them – leaving them hopelessly bereft of all its utility. Though the quality of our traveling experiences are sometimes best left to the richness of our memories, poetry manages to adequately capture the essence of us wandering revelers in unique ways. Whether you’re an experienced adventurer or a nascent dreamer, the stanzas that follow are sure to inspire the traveler in you!
Li Bai (Chinese: 李白, 701-762)
Parting at a Wine-shop in Nan-king
A wind, bringing willow-cotton, sweetens the shop,
And a girl from Wu, pouring wine, urges me to share it.
With my comrades of the city who are here to see me off;
And as each of them drains his cup, I say to him in parting,
Oh, go and ask this river running to the east
If it can travel farther than a friend’s love!
Du Fu (Chinese: 杜甫, 712-770)
I remember the temple, this route I’ve travelled 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 colour shows it’s late.
All the traveler’s sorrow fades away,
What better place to rest than this?
Walt Whitman (1819-1892)
Song of Myself (46, lines 1210-1214)
Not I, not any one else can travel that road for you,
You must travel it for yourself.
It is not far, it is within reach,
Perhaps you have been on it since you were born and did not know,
Perhaps it is everywhere on water and on land.
Christina Rossetti (1830-1894)
Does the road wind up-hill all the way?
Yes, to the very end.
Will the day’s journey take the whole long day?
From morn to night, my friend.
But is there for the night a resting-place?
A roof for when the slow dark hours begin.
May not the darkness hide it from my face?
You cannot miss that inn.
Shall I meet other wayfarers at night?
Those who have gone before.
Then must I knock, or call when just in sight?
They will not keep you standing at that door.
Shall I find comfort, travel-sore and weak?
Of labour you shall find the sum.
Will there be beds for me and all who seek?
Yea, beds for all who come.
Robert Frost (1874-1963)
The Road Not Taken
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Khalil Gibran (1883-1931)
The Farewell (from The Prophet)
We wanderers, ever seeking the lonelier way,
begin no day where we have ended
another day; and no sunrise finds us where
sunset left us.
Even while the earth sleeps we travel.
We are the seeds of the tenacious plant,
and it is in our ripeness and our fullness of
heart that we are given to the wind and are
Dorothy Parker (1893-1967)
Half across the world from me
Lie the lands I’ll never see-
I, whose longing lives and dies
Where a ship has sailed away;
I, that never close my eyes
But to look upon Cathay.
Things I may not know nor tell
Wait, where older waters swell;
Ways that flowered at Sappho’s tread,
Winds that sighed in Homer’s strings,
Vibrant with the singing dead,
Golden with the dust of wings.
Under deeper skies than mine,
Quiet valleys dip and shine.
Where their tender grasses heal
Ancient scars of trench and tomb
I shall never walk: nor kneel
Where the bones of poets bloom.
If I seek a lovelier part,
Where I travel goes my heart;
Where I stray my thought must go;
With me wanders my desire.
Best to sit and watch the snow,
Turn the lock, and poke the fire.
Got a favorite travel poem or one of your own? Share it in the comments below.