Study Guide

Farm Implements and Rutabagas in a Landscape Themes

  • Language and Communication

    Welcome to the wild world of contemporary poetry, which is often as much about the ways people use language as about how they act. Ashbery pokes fun at the reader's need to figure out what a poem "means" by making part of "Farm Implements and Rutabagas in a Landscape" an "undecoded message." The cartoon characters seem almost to talk in riddles, especially Olive and Wimpy. The poem blends many different kinds of speech together, from the childish to the pretentious.

    Questions About Language and Communication

    1. Is there more than one "undecoded message" in the poem?
    2. What kind of people do the characters talk like? To whom would you compare them?
    3. How does the repetition of the same six words help structure the poem?
    4. Is there a consistent story running through the poem, or do events happen for no reason at all? Do you think Ashbery had a story in mind?

    Chew on This

    The poem should be understood as nonsense and lacks a consistent narrative. This doesn't make it a bad poem.

  • The Home

    "Farm Implements and Rutabagas in a Landscape" follows a favorite cartoon character back to his apartment. It's like MTV Cribs, cartoon-style. The only problem is that Popeye isn't home. Instead, one of his most notorious enemies is hanging out with a guy named Wimpy. Because these are cartoon characters, we might expect scenes of off-the-wall violence, but instead everyone is totally domestic. They have nothing better to do than sit on the couch and open can after can of spinach. The home protects and isolates the characters from the outside world.

    Questions About The Home

    1. How did the Sea Hag get into Popeye's apartment? Was she invited or did she break in?
    2. Would you want to spend a vacation in Popeye's apartment? What kinds of things do you think you would find there (besides spinach, of course)?
    3. How does Popeye's apartment contribute to the taming of nature?
    4. What do you think "domestic thunder" could mean? Is the thunder more powerful than the apartment, or the other way around?

    Chew on This

    The poem depicts the gradual domestication of nature until nature disappears altogether.

  • Dissatisfaction

    A thin layer of dissatisfaction hangs over "Farm Implements and Rutabagas in a Landscape," but it's so thin you might not even notice it. The complaints expressed by characters are either minor and nitpicky (things being cheaper in the country) or absurdly idealistic (wanting to be plunged to the stars with inspiration). If we had to play psychologist on these characters, we'd diagnose them with a serious case of boredom. The only character with a real reason to be upset – the exiled Popeye – is perfectly content.

    Questions About Dissatisfaction

    1. Are any of the characters more dissatisfied than the others?
    2. Are dissatisfaction and social class related in this poem? To what class do these characters belong?
    3. Why do none of the characters seem especially disturbed by the thunder outside?
    4. What's Popeye laughing about at the end of the poem?

    Chew on This

    The characters should be dissatisfied based on the objective facts of their situation, but they are incapable of being truly disturbed by anything.

  • Man and the Natural World

    When Olive tells the other characters that there won't be any more sunny days or mossy trees, "Farm Implements and Rutabagas in a Landscape" expresses something the reader might have suspected all along: these characters are very isolated from nature. Despite having a title that suggests nature paintings, the Sea Hag and company mostly stay in the apartment, eat things, and talk in lofty sentences. Even the awesome power of thunder becomes harmless and "domestic" in the poem's final stanza.

    Questions About Man and the Natural World

    1. Are there any images of "wild" nature in this poem, or is nature always domesticated and suited to human needs?
    2. Which character is most closely associated with nature?
    3. How does the apartment protect or isolate the characters from nature? Is this a good or a bad thing?
    4. Put yourself in Ashbery's shoes for a minute. Why would he have given the title "Farm Implements and Rutabagas in a Landscape," and how does the title affect the way you approach the poem?

    Chew on This

    Popeye's consciousness belongs to an earlier period of history when man was not isolated from nature.

  • Transformation

    So things all started to go wrong when Popeye's father, who looks exactly like him except more wrinkly, got jealous of his son's supply of spinach and his girlfriend and decided to force Popeye to leave the country. Now, in "Farm Implements and Rutabagas in a Landscape," Popeye sits somewhere in the countryside and hurls green thunder that blocks the sun and creates perfect darkness. But, don't worry, it's not mad thunder; it's "loving thunder," and Popeye is very happy in the end. It's a transformation all right...we're just not sure how else in the world to describe it.

    Questions About Transformation

    1. Does the poem describe one big transformation or several smaller transformations?
    2. How would you describe the major transformation in the poem in one sentence? Is it possible?
    3. Why isn't Popeye more upset about being forced to leave the country? Is the thunder an expression of anger or something else?
    4. Why does the thunder take over the apartment at the end of the poem?

    Chew on This

    Popeye's exile from the country is the cause of transformation in the poem.