Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The theme of the poem is the need of the poet to connect himself with a previous, perhaps more innocent time and to establish a sense of himself in the present. Although he is ostensibly writing a letter to Thoreau, he is also using the poem as a vehicle to declare his own sense of connectedness and purpose, the “strange love in a distant land” with which the poem ends.

Part of the problem of identity for Booth is his perception of the encroachment of the machine that threatens the land, the chain saws that “rape a virgin stand to stumps” and that have “more power than has ever been seen before.” They desecrate the natural landscape: “an orange oil tank flaws the spring; girders bloom with concrete blocks.” In addition to the incursion of the machine, time has wrought additional havoc: wars, inflation, tourists, pollution. “Tight-paired jets” write “cryptic warnings on the thin blue air.” The jets symbolize not only the present but also a future dominated by machines and by violence.

Booth’s view of the mechanization of modern life is a step beyond that of Thoreau, who in Walden found a place for the railroad as symbol of the new age of the machine. Like Walt Whitman in Democratic Vistas (1871), Thoreau saw the machine as part and parcel of his transcendental vision. It was all part of the transformation of the world, a new vehicle for humanity to reach a state of higher development. Apparently...

(The entire section is 488 words.)