Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The three primary thematic concerns of “Landscape with Tractor” are the nature of unexpected change, the contemplation of mortality, and the inexplicable connection between human beings. In his review of Taylor’s The Flying Change for The New York Review of Books (May, 1986), Peter Stitt views the first of these themes, the consequences of change and mutability, as the thematic core of the book. Stitt observes that Taylor seeks to portray the “unsettling change,” the “rent in the veil of ordinary life.” Clearly “Landscape with Tractor” explores this idea extensively; the speaker’s unexpected encounter with a dead body awakens in him the realization that change, even extreme change, lurks clandestinely around every bend in the human journey.

Perhaps the most disquieting kind of change looming on the human landscape is one’s own inevitable death. The speaker’s moment of facing his own mortality, depicted in his uneasy confrontation with the “ripening” corpse, reflects Taylor’s second preoccupation. Death, especially as the result of sudden and unexplained violence, is a theme that dominates much of Taylor’s work, especially in memorable poems such as “Barbed Wire,” from The Flying Change, and “A Voltage Spike,” from Taylor’s 1996 collection Understanding Fiction. In these poems violent, sudden, and seemingly meaningless deaths force both the poet and the speaker to recognize the tenuous nature of life and to examine the consequences that stem from this realization. A final thematic concern, and one that perhaps distinguishes “Landscape with Tractor” from other Taylor poems, is its concern with the inexplicable but strongly felt bond between human beings. For Taylor, an elusive but undeniable bond links all of humanity, a bond that is unquestionable but very difficult to articulate.