Study Guide

Farm Implements and Rutabagas in a Landscape Transformation

By John Ashbery

Transformation

The first of the undecoded messages read: "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 "emergence" of a Chinese puzzle called a tangram is the first transformation in the poem. The image of a "country" seems almost to come in through the window, past the curtains. The poem is like a half-completed transformation, because the messages are never decoded, the puzzle never solved.

The apartment
Seemed to grow smaller. (10-11)

This sentence marks the start of the middle section of the poem, when all the characters begin to voice their gripes and dissatisfactions. Once the site of a pleasant vacation, the apartment becomes cramped and thunder-filled.

"Henceforth shall Popeye's apartment
Be but remembered space, toxic or salubrious, whole or scratched." (17-18)

Swee'pea's note announces – out of the blue – that things will never be the same. Thunder and tears have failed to achieve something, and now the apartment is a space that people can only "remember." It doesn't matter what state the apartment is in anymore.

heaves bolts of loving thunder
At his own astonished becoming, 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. (23-27)

After the reading of Swee'pea's note, Olive comes to announce her news. She, too, remarks that things will never be the same. Sunshine and green, growing things have transformed into "immaculate" or perfect darkness that is filled with thunder. The orderly sequence of the "arpeggio" of years has been disturbed forever. But, in that case, why do none of the characters seem particularly upset?

But Olive was already out of earshot. Now the apartment
Succumbed to a strange new hush. "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." (32-34)

Once Olive leaves to take Swee'pea to the country, the apartment returns to a state of relative normalcy. The Sea Hag enjoys the peace and quiet, and apparently she doesn't mind the whole world-turned-to-darkness thing, either. The Sea Hag is the most complacent character in the poem.

This is a premium product

Tired of ads?

Join today and never see them again.

Please Wait...