John Ashbery traces the factors, which directly influence and alter attitude of the modern man in day-to-day situations. Thus the poem brings before us the complexities of urban life in the social, political and psychological issues with personal trains of feelings of the poet. The Melodic Trains is written in the perspective of modern American society. The social aspects are discussed on an emotional scale. The temperament, attitude and behaviour of modern man are dependent on conditions. The feelings of poet remain else-oriented. He does not feel anything irrelevant to his surrounding. The self is replaced by else all the time. The first feelings he gives in the train are about the girl wearing enameled finger nails.
“A little girl with scarlet enameled fingernails/ Asks me what time it is—“
What he feels about or for this girl is totally social or impersonal. He reckons his look and position from outside. The girl is not funny in herself. Likewise the poet is not funny in himself. He is funny for other people on judgmental basis. The way he uses to convey his opinion about himself is quite modern. In nature, anyhow they are too American to be global. We can say that these are not the feelings of a common man. But they are expressed in so impersonal a way that they look familiar enough to be of a common man. The artistic involvement of the poet in the expression of these feelings makes them poetic and general. The concept of distance however is dealt with a philosophical touch. It is also enhanced by a brisk comparison “…as though our train were a pencil/ Guided by a ruler held against a photomural of the
Alps”. The distance is not without its curious justification yet it is unofficial and impersonal because the poet and the girl are not in their usual mood. The words ‘unofficial’ and ‘impersonal’, however, seem opposites of each other. How one can be unofficial and impersonal at the same time? This is the question that we feel ourselves unable to solve. But this what the poet has taken as a model theme for his poem. The dilemma of a modern man is to be unofficial and impersonal at the same time. The people sitting in the train are unofficial because they are not on their usual places. And they are impersonal because they are involved with the other people going to their particular journeys separately. The distance or journey is like the time of a stop watch – right twice a day. It temporary and momentary. It makes one unofficial and impersonal at the same time. As the distance has a curious justification it is not dimensionless.
“Only the wait in stations is vague and/ Dimensionless, like oneself”
The wait in the stations on the other hand is vague and dimensionless. It is so because it was not calculated and perhaps is never calculated. The dimensionlessness of this wait is conveyed through the extrovert social behaviour of the people. One thinks about others when one is in trouble. Thematically the poet has shifted himself from relaxed to tense feelings. This is what the modern poets practice very commonly. The themes are mostly sense, emotion and feeling oriented. The poems of traditional poets were mostly thought oriented. It was the poetic thought that inspired them to write not the poetic feelings. The poetic thoughts aroused in them the poetic feelings and they wrote in a spontaneous over flow of powerful feelings. With the modern poets the things are different a little bit. Their feelings inspire them to write. These are the feelings they experience first not the thoughts. This is why the reader of a modern poetry will feel himself sensitively mature thought not wise. The theme of this poem is therefore the feelings of a modern man or so many modern men. The poet has conveyed their feelings through feelings not thoughts.
“Sadness of the faces of children / Concern of the grownups for connections”
It is not the thought that the taxis have no timetable but a feeling. The taxis of course have their timetable but the person speaking this thought is in a state of mind that suffices to convert his thoughts into feelings. The anxiety, however, results in an expression of modern attitude towards various directions. It seems as if the modern people are always ready to be annoyed. The variance in thoughts and feelings has made them impatient with their surroundings. They seem no more tolerant and considerate. It has become a part of their feelings and expressions. The sooner they get anxious the less latter they get relaxed. The line, ‘…why there is so little/ Panic and disorder in the world, and so much unhappiness” though thematic in nature yet indicates the feelings of a person who see these people in such a tense condition. They are not philosophic in any way. They result from the complex interplay of feelings which seems as if the modern man starts thinking when gets tense and confused. Similarly, the other men start feeling when they see tension. The problem is not of identity but of individuality. They do not know where they become different from others and similar to them. The difference in their resulted thoughts is the difference in their identity. What the poet feels in the above and the following lines is the crisis of identity. In the first stage he feels them unjustified. But in the second desirous to be one of them as suggested by the line:
‘Might I just through proximity and aping Of postures and attitudes”
In this respect, it looks strange that the difference remained only up to the difference in position. As soon as the passengers get down they forget their anxieties. A new situation seems waiting to devour them. With the changed positions, the people are transformed from one set of feelings to another – from one difference to another, from one similarity to another in these momentary situations. The poem is so perfect in theme and treatment that it seems dealing with nearly all the modern problems and issues. The life of a modern man is hinted from all sides. The canvas though social yet outlines with domestic contrasts.