In the Room of a Thousand Miles is a travel poem. The poem explores travel that isn’t of the physical nature, but the travel one does in their minds. The poem starts off with the narrator sitting inside his house, writing about the things he sees through his window. “… a neighbor walking his small, nervous dog”. This establishes the fact that the narrator is at home, and although he talks about the “sun-blanched stadiums of Rome” and the “waterclock in Bruges”, he isn’t physically in those places, indicating that this journey takes place inside his head. The title of the poem further establishes the mental aspect of travel, because there is no literal room of a thousand miles.
The dialogic address of the poem makes the reader feel more involved with the narrator, as if the reader is experiencing this journey alongside him and is actively engaged in a conversation with him. It also makes the poem a lot more personal. The narrator complains about his wife, of how she is critical of his work: “My wife hands these poems back to me with a sigh. She thinks I ought to be opening up…”. Billy Collins’ uses the dialogic address to make the reader feel like they are having a meaningful conversation with the narrator, listening to his concerns and worries. Another instance that expresses intimacy between the narrator and the reader, is when the author uses parenthesis to tell something exclusively to the reader: “And then –just between you and me—”. This statement shows the bond that the narrator and reader have forged by journeying together.
The lines in the poem are pretty short; the longest line has 9 words. The use of such short lines serves multiple purposes. Most importantly, it makes the visual imagery so vivid and dominant. “I visualize a lion rampant on an iron shield”. The simplicity of this image, and the few words chosen to express it, gets across the point to the reader rather directly, one can easily conjure up such an image in their mind. The imagery is presented as plainly as possible, and this makes them stronger and bolder. Short lines, that are also grammatically simple (“I take a swallow of cold tea”), give the poem a more conversational feel.
The poem is written in free verse, because there seems to be no proper structure or pattern. Nonetheless, the poem does contain some half-rhymes like “history” and” its cities”, “you and me” and “cold tea” etc. The pace of the poem however varies through the course of the poem. The poem starts off with quite a quick pace, and maintains this tempo for the majority of the poem. However towards the end when about 10 lines of the poem remain the tempo slows down. This is brought upon by an increase in the length of the lines, and also the increase in punctuation.
The mood of the poem can be described as being uncertain, and a little confused. The narrator’s uncertainty about what to write on in the start of the poem, makes the reader feel like the narrator is tired and at a loss on what to write on. “I tell her I will try again”. But as the narrator journeys within his mind he realizes he had the right idea all along. So towards the end of the poem, the reader feels like the narrator has found an answer to his worries, and that he has accomplished something.
The narrator leaves the reader with an unresolved problem in the end of the poem. The poem starts out in the familiar setting of a house, of a person looking out their window. The narrator writes a poem about what he sees outside, only to find out that his wife rather he wrote on the many exotic places around the world. He thinks of all these places, and attempts to do as his wife said, but ultimately decides to write on what he sees outside instead. However, the short mental trip the narrator has had seems to have somehow changed his perception of what he first saw when he looked outside. The difference in tone, from jovial to serene, and the difference in tempo, from quick (“I like writing about where I am, where I happen to be sitting”) to slow (“the one that sings, pauses, then sings again.”), all indicate that the narrator’s brief travel has had a major impact on him. This mysterious ending leaves the reader disorientated and unsure, as if as so often the case with traveling.