Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The poem has its origins, perhaps, in the ballad, from which come the lyrical line and the repetition of sounds that combine music and words to make poetry. The ballad also provides the subject: the tale of death and struggle. It resembles contemporary versions of the Mexican corrido, a traditional song telling of love and passion, struggle and death. In “The Searchers,” Tomás Rivera relates his poem and the lives of migrant workers in the United States to the cultural traditions of Mexico, yet his poem and its characters belong to the United States. His poem, in form, language, allusion, and theme relates a bicultural society that is distinct from the two societies that served as its progenitors.

Though echoing the themes of hope and compassion that occur in so many of Rivera’s poems, “The Searchers” places them in the broader context of the Chicano and of Rivera’s own philosophical inquiry. By combining meditation with narrative, Rivera extended the poetic resonance of images of workers and the Chicano that are found in many other poems. In “The Searchers,” however, he achieves a form that combines the facts of a particular group with the eternal poetic quest for the meaning of life. The elements of danger and death, the struggles to remain alive and to retain dignity, provide an unusual force and poignancy.

This poem is a meditation on the necessities of life by a poet who had struggled to live, who had fought prejudice and ignorance, yet a poet who has not become embittered. As author of the poem, he is the essential searcher, and his poem charts his search from fields and migrant worker camps to the spirit.