Study Guide

Farm Implements and Rutabagas in a Landscape Dissatisfaction

By John Ashbery

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The apartment
Seemed to grow smaller. "But what if no pleasant
Inspiration plunge us now to the stars? For this is my country." (10-12)

The characters sense that the apartment feels cramped and confining. Wimpy worries, "Is this it?" He wants to be inspired and to travel through the galaxy, at least metaphorically. We don't know how else to describe his dissatisfaction other than to say that he wants something "more" than what the apartment has to offer.

But Swee'pea looked morose. A note was pinned to his bib. "Thunder
And tears are unavailing," it read. "Henceforth shall Popeye's apartment
Be but remembered space, toxic or salubrious, whole or scratched." (16-18)

Swee'pea's expression is "morose," or depressed. We're inclined to think that his expression has something to do with the note pinned to his chest, announcing that Popeye's apartment now belongs to the past. But it's hard to make firm logical connections between different parts of the poem. The poem is filled with loose associations or non sequitors, events that don't seem to follow from what came before.

rupturing the pleasant

Arpeggio of our years. No more shall pleasant
Rays of the sun refresh your sense of growing old, nor the scratched
Tree-trunks and mossy foliage, only immaculate darkness and thunder." (24-27)

"Pleasant" is one of the six words that is repeated throughout the sestina. "Pleasant" is a very weak word for a happiness that is only momentary. The characters in the poem lived pleasant lives before, but now they suddenly find themselves in the dark and surrounded by thunder. What's more, they have lost the beauty of nature.

"Actually it's quite pleasant
Here," thought the Sea Hag. "If this is all we need fear from spinach
Then I don't mind so much. Perhaps we could invite Alice the Goon over"--she scratched
One dug pensively--"but Wimpy is such a country
Bumpkin, always burping like that." (32-36)

Once Olive and Swee'pea leave the apartment, the Sea Hag begins to relax and finds the apartment more "pleasant" than she had before. She isn't as worried about what kind of trouble Popeye will stir up under the influence of his beloved spinach. She's not thrilled about the thunder, but she'll deal...worse things have happened. Nonetheless, she can always find something to complain about, like Wimpy's burping.

Popeye chuckled and scratched
His balls: it sure was pleasant to spend a day in the country. (38-39)

All the other characters are restrained by their proper middle-class attitudes, and only Popeye feels comfortable in his own skin. We weren't expecting Popeye to look so happy after Olive's story about being exiled by his father. He has ample grounds for dissatisfaction, but instead he expresses a child-like contentment with the world. Because he is "unthought of" (2), he doesn't have to worry about being watched or judged by the likes of the Sea Hag.

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