Study Guide

Farm Implements and Rutabagas in a Landscape Man and the Natural World

By John Ashbery

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Man and the Natural World

Farm Implements and Rutabagas in a Landscape (Title)

The title of the poem is a parody of the title of a landscape painting. European painters often painted scenes of natural beauty in which nature is tamed and domesticated for human use. Unlike a city, the agricultural landscape is not overpowered by human activity. The title presents an old-fashioned view of nature.

"Popeye sits in thunder,
Unthought of. From that shoebox of an apartment,
From livid curtain's hue, a tangram emerges: a country." (1-3)

The first stanza sets up a contrast between Popeye, who sits in some unspecified "country," and a small, cramped apartment. Apartments are associated with urban life. People in the city don't think about what is going on in the country, and Popeye is "unthought of."

Olive came hurtling through the window; its geraniums scratched
Her long thigh. (19-20)

Isn't there a 1980s movie about killer flowers? Seriously, who gets injured by flower petals? Olive's scratching is a sign of how humans and nature don't quite get along in this poem.

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." (25-27)

Olive's description of being "refreshed" by natural beauty comes as a surprise. As far as we can tell, these characters spend most of their time lounging around and eating spinach. For some reason, Popeye's thunder has crowded out those parts of nature that once gave them pleasure. "Scratched tree-trunks and mossy foliage" sounds like an image out of a landscape painting.

Minute at first, the thunder

Soon filled the apartment. It was domestic thunder,
The color of spinach. Popeye chuckled and scratched
His balls: it sure was pleasant to spend a day in the country. (36-39)

Thunder and lightning are one of the most spectacular displays that nature has to offer. And green, spinach-colored lightning sounds especially awesome. But the lightning that fills the apartment is tamed and brought down to human scale. The image shows how humans have the power to alter their own perception of nature.

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