Read “The Farm on the Great Plains” and a brief biography on William Stafford. What biographical connections can be made when analyzing this poem?

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kmcappello | (Level 1) Assistant Educator

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William Stafford is one of Kansas' most well-known poets.  Though born in the early 1900's, he only began publishing poetry in the 1960's, and his work has been said to be marked by a quiet wisdom and maturity perhaps influenced by his age.  The poem, "The Farm on the Great Plains" is no exception.

Stafford came of age during the Great Depression, when he and his family would move from town to town with his father looking for work.  This was particularly difficult in and around Kansas, as the Dust Bowl made it extremely difficult to farm.  In fact, many families migrated to the west coast to escape the drought and find work, abandoning their farms.  But regardless of these hardships, Stafford supposedly had a happy childhood.

"The Farm on the Great Plains" evokes the atmosphere of a Midwest ravaged by the Dust Bowl.  The speaker is trying to reach relatives at an abandoned farmhouse, but the "telephone line goes cold."  Much of Stafford's language is focused on abandonment and emptiness: "no one is home at the farm/the line gives only a hum" and "no space, no birds, no farm" are examples.  Yet there is hopefulness as well.  The speaker eventually reaches someone, though it is not who he was expecting; and he eventually inhabits the empty space, or rather becomes it, thus filling it: "Myself will be the plain,/wise as winter is gray."  In the same way, Stafford retains the Dust Bowl of his youth by writing about and preserving it.

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