COMMENTARY - REINDEER AND ENGINE This poem, "Reindeer and Engine" is by Josephine Jacobsen. It is set in a 'Finnish forest track' where a reindeer is being chassed by a train. It flees from the light of the train as it 'runs' forward trying to escape. This is a narrative poem because it tells a story from an omniscient point of view. It is written in four stanza's each one telling a different part of the story.
The first idea we come across is that of light. 'The great round eye' in the first line represents the light on the front of the train, and how that light is 'fastened' to the reindeer. Feeling trapped because everything else around it is dark, and the idea that this light is 'great', this 'blast of light' that engulfs the reindeer, leaving no room for escape. In the second stanza the reader realizes to what point the light affects the reindeer so that it 'will not look back, or aside, or swerve'.
The deer is surrounded by the light, and in an effort to move away from the light it only runs forward because behind and to the left and right there is also the 'whitehot splinter' of light. The 'roaring light' reappears in the final stanza to emphasize the poet's idea of contrast.
Contrast is a major theme in 'Reindeer and Engine'. It is expressed in line eleven where the reindeer is unable to escape to the 'good dark'. Usually darkness is associated with negativity and light is in turn a good symbol. Jacobsen shows us how the darkness is good because it represents the escape for the reindeer, and the light from the train signifies evil, or death. Similarly the 'snowy crows' and 'owlly hush' portray controversial ideas. Crows are black yet they are described in the poem as being 'snowy,' which is white, while owls are extremely noisy and are shown as being quiet. These contrast show that ironically everything has changed.
The tone and mood of the piece are expressed with the constant use of words such as 'die', 'dark', and 'cold'. These words leave a gloomy, and disconcerting effect on the reader. Generally the poem has a sad tone to it because in the end evil triumphs over good.
As a literary feature, the line 'runs runs runs runs runs' reappears in the same line of each stanza to accentuate the sound of the train through onomatopoeia as the engine is heard. In addition the repetition emphasizes the idea of the reindeer 'fleeing' from the speeding train tearing down the track.
The poet uses vivid imagery in this poem to keep the interest of the reader. Other important techniques such as onomatopoeia and alliteration are key features of the poem, which contributes to the rhythm of the poem, and helps bring it to life. I really enjoyed reading this poem because I felt that I could almost see and hear the reindeer running from the train. The literary features made me feel as though I was the deer itself caught in the light.