"Compressed emotions," that is the explanation a teacher once gave to the ongoing question, "What is poetry?" He said it was someone's deepest emotions, as if you were reading them right out of that person's mind, which in that case would not consist of any words at all. If someone tells you a story, it is usually like a shell. Rarely are all of the deepest and most personal emotions revealed effectively. A poem of that story would be like the inside of the shell. It personifies situations, and symbolizes and compares emotions with other things in life. Louise Erdrich's poem Indian Boarding School puts the emotions of a person or group of people in a setting around a railroad track. The feelings experienced are compared to things from the setting, which takes on human characteristics.
Louise Erdrich was born part German, part American Indian. Since the title and other references in the poem refer to Indian people, it is most likely that this poem was very personal to her. The boarding school may have been a real place she went to, or where mistreatment of her people was not uncommon, or it could simply be a tool she used to express racism towards them in general. With that fact, the reader must remember that although the words are from the runaways' point of view, there are not necessarily any real runaways.
From the point of view at which this is told, the runaways are eager to find their way home. They do not necessarily really try to runaway, it may just be in their fantasies, "Home's the place we head for in our sleep." (line 1). The first use of personification is in the line, "The rails, old lacerations that we love,"(line 4). It is not yet quite clear why Erdrich would compare the train tracks with old lacerations until the lines, "shoot parallel across the face and break just under the Turtle Mountains." (lines 5-6). Mountains are definite things that are physical in nature. Train tracks on a face are hard to imagine, so it leads us...
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