What are some implications of the symbolism used in X. J. Kennedy's poem "Old Men Pitching Horseshoes"?

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vangoghfan | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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X. J. Kennedy's poem "Old Men Pitching Horseshoes" seems less a poem concerned with using symbolism than a poem concerned with capturing vividly a particular activity, particular characters, and a particular moment in time. The poem briefly describes a competition between a number of old men as they play horseshoes in a back yard. The fact that the men are old men may imply that the poem deals symbolically with the theme of aging. Perhaps the poem suggests that the old men have lost some of their links or connections to youth in the same ways that the horseshoes have lost their attachments to vigorous, dynamic, energetic animals. This possibility is suggested by the final lines of the poem, where the speaker describes how the flung horseshoes

. . . kick dust with all the force

Of shoes still hammered to a living horse.

Since poets often emphasize themes and symbolism in the final lines of their work, these lines might be read symbolically. The lines may suggest that just as the horseshoes can still raise dust, so the old men can still be vigorous and strong despite their advanced age.

Mainly, though, the poem seems effective as an especially memorable "slice of life" -- a vivid rendering of a familiar activity, familiar characters, and a striking (pun intended) moment in time.

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