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Analysis of Poem "Abandoned Farmhouse" by Ted Kooser

Updated on March 5, 2017
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Andrew has a keen interest in all aspects of poetry and writes extensively on the subject. His poems are published online and in print.

Ted Kooser
Ted Kooser | Source

Ted Kooser and Abandoned Farmhouse

Abandoned Farmhouse is a poem that relies on repeated personification and the language of abandonment to create an eerie, mysterious atmosphere. The reader is left asking questions, pondering on the whys and wherefores of such an absence.

Ted Kooser is a poet of the Midwest and tends to focus in on such subjects as family, love, place and sense of time. Many of his poems are rooted in the past or are works of precise observation.

'I write for other people with the hope that I can help them to see the wonderful things within their everyday environment.'

Abandoned Farmhouse is perhaps his best known and shows off his acute sensitivity to ordinary life and his ability to relate the present to the years gone by.

By stepping into the house, into the poem, the reader is immediately aware of the surroundings - the imagery is detailed, the language plain.

Abandoned Farmhouse


He was a big man, says the size of his shoes
on a pile of broken dishes by the house;
a tall man too, says the length of the bed
in an upstairs room; and a good, God-fearing man,
says the Bible with a broken back
on the floor below the window, dusty with sun;
but not a man for farming, say the fields
cluttered with boulders and the leaky barn.

A woman lived with him, says the bedroom wall
papered with lilacs and the kitchen shelves
covered with oilcloth, and they had a child,
says the sandbox made from a tractor tire.
Money was scarce, say the jars of plum preserves
and canned tomatoes sealed in the cellar hole.
And the winters cold, say the rags in the window frames.
It was lonely here, says the narrow country road.

Something went wrong, says the empty house
in the weed-choked yard. Stones in the fields
say he was not a farmer; the still-sealed jars
in the cellar say she left in a nervous haste.
And the child? Its toys are strewn in the yard
like branches after a storm—a rubber cow,
a rusty tractor with a broken plow,
a doll in overalls. Something went wrong, they say.

Analysis

Abandoned Farmhouse is a poem of three stanzas, 24 lines in total, and has an inconsistent iambic pentameter rhythm, that is, each line has on average five beats (or stresses), which reflects a conversational sort of style. For example:

He was a big man, says the size of his shoes

on a pile of broken dishes by the house;

When reading through, take care with punctuation and enjambment, which help vary the pace.

Alliteration

Alliteration, when words with the same consonants are placed close to one another, helps strengthen the sound, brings emphasis to particular meaning, and adds interest to the language. Note:

says the size of his shoes (line 1)

tall man too (line 2)

good, God fearing man (line 4)

Bible with a broken back (line 5)

still-sealed...say she (lines 19/20)

Personification

This poem is full of personification, where an object or thing takes on human characteristics. So from the onset the reader finds the shoes, the bed, the Bible, the fields and so on, all become the voices of those real people who are now absent.

The speaker is sharing these perceptions with the reader, guiding them through the empty farmhouse and out into the fields and yard, down into the cellar, to reinforce this idea of a complete abandonment by the family.

Ironically, the more the 'voices' are heard, the more the absences are felt. The reader's imagination is sparked as the poem progresses.

Simile

A simile can add interest to a poem by comparing one thing with another using the word like (or as); the imagery changes. Look at lines 21 and 22:

And the child? Its toys are strewn in the yard

like branches after a storm-

When a storm hits a tree it usually knocks off a branch or two and they fall down and lie in strange places, as if they shouldn't be there and this is exactly what the simile implies - the child's toys have been caught up in a storm, a metaphorical storm?

The poet's use of the word storm is important here because it infers that the family went through a storm, something hit them and caused havoc, caused them to pack up and leave in a hurry.

More Analysis

Diction/Language

There are several words used by the poet to tell the reader, remind them, of the theme of the poem - that of human abandonment. Here is a house, a former home, that is now empty. Going through the stanzas:

broken, broken, dusty, cluttered, leaky, scarce, cold, lonely, weed-choked,strewn, wrong, broken, nervous haste, wrong.

So the theme is made all too obvious throughout the poem, repeated in some cases, and the reader is left in no doubt - something went wrong.

Overall Impression

Life must have been hard on the farm for the family that the reader never gets to see or hear from in the flesh. Only the things forgotten and dusty and strewn can tell the story, leaving hints and clues about the life and activities of the mother, father and child.

This poem brings with it mystery and misfortune. How come the people had to leave? Did a natural disaster, such as a hurricane or tornado, force them to go? Was it the last nail in the coffin after a failed harvest or two, due to the incompetence of the farmer?

The speaker only ever suggests and the reader has to infer. The man was God-fearing but he left behind the Bible, of all books, the one thing a religious person ought to take with them. Perhaps he lost his religion due to a failed crop?

They left without taking preserved food with them, which, because they were a poor family is hard to understand - another bit of the puzzle the reader has to fill in with their imagination. The poet tempts the reader to reconstruct the lives that are no longer there by giving the house and the land and other things the unheard voices of the former occupants.

© 2017 Andrew Spacey

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