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Analysis of Poem "The Rider" by Naomi Shihab Nye

Naomi Shihab Nye

Naomi Shihab Nye

Naomi Shihab Nye and The Rider

The Rider is a compact, free verse poem that is a snapshot in time. The speaker, on a bicycle, thinks back to a time when a boy out roller-skating told of loneliness and leaving it behind whilst racing ahead.

The poem is a short slice of thought that, at first reading, appears a little light and superficial, but as the reader progresses in understanding, it is soon apparent that the theme—loneliness—is closely linked to time, nature and being human.

First published in the book Fuel, 1998, the poem uses personification and subtle language to bring a special moment into clear focus.

The Rider

A boy told me
if he roller-skated fast enough
his loneliness couldn’t catch up to him,

the best reason I ever heard
for trying to be a champion.

What I wonder tonight
pedaling hard down King William Street
is if it translates to bicycles.

A victory! To leave your loneliness
panting behind you on some street corner
while you float free into a cloud of sudden azaleas,
pink petals that have never felt loneliness,
no matter how slowly they fell.

Analysis of The Rider

The Rider is written in a conversational tone, the speaker casually telling the reader what a boy happened to impart at some time or other—we're not told if this snippet of conversation took place in the near or distant past. Perhaps there is no need to know exact dates and times.

  • What is important is that third line and the idea it contains. The boy was on roller skates because he wanted to leave his loneliness behind, quite a profound thing to say.
  • The loneliness here becomes a kind of shadow phantom, a separate entity, personified. His loneliness existed, but if he went fast enough, he could carry on as a different (perhaps happier) person.

The speaker gives an opinion in lines four and five, stating that the boy might become a champion if he could permanently leave his loneliness behind. Perhaps it was dragging him down, slowing him up. Or, he could go fast only because of his loneliness? Something to think about.

  • In stanza three, the time change becomes clear. It's the here and now. The speaker is on a bike, wondering if the same thing could happen (to her or him) as happened to the boy.

And yes, it's confirmed in the last stanza. The speaker's loneliness is left panting, out of breath and trying to catch up. Meanwhile, the cyclist manages to float free and experience the magic of azalea flowers, which relate to loneliness through personification, for their petals can never be lonely, despite their slow descent to the ground.

That last image is a strong one and not a little strange. Picture the cyclist in a kind of temporary bliss, having left loneliness behind, drifting into a pink flowery cloud.

  • So, on the surface, roller-skating and cycling, two high-movement sports, are just the thing for leaving loneliness to catch up. We perhaps all experience loneliness from time to time. This poem points to the release of hope, an opportunity to heighten the senses and move on to a different and more positive state of mind.

Further Analysis of The Rider

The Rider is a free verse poem with 13 lines split into four stanzas. Being free verse, there is no set rhyme scheme or meter (metre in British English).


Loneliness is personified in this poem—given human qualities—as in line 3 when the loneliness couldn't catch the boy up. And again, in line 10, the speaker refers to loneliness panting behind.

The petals in line 12 are also personified because they have never felt loneliness.


This is when two or more words in close proximity start with the same consonants.

Line 3 - couldn't catch

Line 6 - What I wonder

Line 9 - leave your loneliness

Line 10 - some street

Line 11 - float free

Line 12 - pink petals

A Read of The Rider

Naomi Shihab Nye Biographical Info

Naomi Shihab Nye is an Arab-American poet who spent her youth in Palestine, Jerusalem, and San Antonio, Texas. She has written numerous books of poetry, as well as fiction for children, and is the recipient of several awards, including the National Book Critics Circle Lifetime Achievement Award.

Nye’s poetry gives voice to the Arab-American experience, but also transcends this and discusses the basics of what it means to be human, such as in the poem The Rider, above. Nye was the Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 2010-2015.

Further Reading

© 2018 Andrew Spacey