Themes and Meanings (Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The essential question of the poem is hinted at in the title, “Concerning Necessity.” What, the poet asks, can sustain the speaker in the face of his difficult, rural existence? How can “necessity,” or the determinants of one’s life, be compensated for? This question is often raised in Carruth poems, which usually have a speaker who is alone in nature and is meditating on the meaning of his usually difficult life. In his poem, as in other Carruth poems, the speaker does not turn to metaphysics, to intuitive responses, or to nature for his answers: He looks for and finds them in his loved one—or, as the speaker says at the end of the poem, “right here where I live.”

After depicting the hard work and deteriorating situations of his existence, the speaker says, “this was the world foreknown,” meaning that he had sensed his life would come to this end. He admits to his “delusion” that nature could provide him with the answers he seeks. Like “that idiot Thoreau,” he had held romantic notions that nature can provide the meaning for man’s existence, if he would only search for such meaning. This notion, that man can find the answers to the basic questions of his existence in nature, was one of the dominant ideas of the great Romantic period of American literature, during the nineteenth century. Authors such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Walt Whitman were the more optimistic representatives of this period, and it...

(The entire section is 500 words.)