Farm Implements and Rutabagas in a Landscape
by John Ashbery
Where It All Goes Down
"Farm Implements and Rutabagas in a Landscape" centers on the age-old question: the country or the city? See, things are cheaper in the country and you don't have to worry about green lightning, but the city has shoebox apartments filled with Olive Oyl and cans of spinach. Like we said, an age-old question.
The title of the poem leads us to imagine that we might be dealing with a landscape painting put into words, but there isn't much landscape aside from what is suggested by the generic word "country." The two imaginative spaces in the poem are the apartment and wherever it is in the country that Popeye is hurling thunder from.
The apartment is small and gets smaller. Popeye might want to consider installing better locks, because even a baby like Swee'pea can find his way inside without any difficulty, and an Olympic-caliber hurdler like Olive doesn't even need to use the door: she can just jump right through the window. The apartment itself is anything you might find in a big city like New York. The Sea Hag finds it nice enough to take a vacation in, although she seems to spend most of her time lounging on her couch, like a kid on summer break. Overall, the setting of the apartment is thoroughly middle-class America.
The landscape outside the apartment is dark and filled with thunder. As Olive explains, she and the other characters used to be able to refresh themselves with sunshine and natural scenery like "scratched tree-trunks and mossy foliage" (26-27), but now that Popeye has been exiled, there is not going to be anymore sunshine – only perfect or "immaculate" darkness. Olive eventually decides to take Swee'pea to the country, maybe to visit Popeye.
In contrast to the bored and gloomy urbanites, Popeye seems perfectly content to be in the country – at least that's what he thinks the poem's final line. He can throw all the thunder he wants, and, if he gets an itch, you'd better believe he's going to scratch it.