Starting in 1929, the same year the Great Depression began, a devastating drought known as the Dust Bowl hit western North American, including the rich farmlands of the western provinces of Canada in places such as Saskatchewan. In the first three stanzas of Anne Marriot's poem "The Wind Our Enemy," she uses imagery and personification to describe the damage caused by the Dust Bowl.
In stanza one, she focuses on the way the winds that passed through, often carrying topsoil, harmed farmhouses, many of which were abandoned by desperate farmers. In this stanza, the wind is personified or given human traits. It is depicted as "furious," a human emotion, and, like an angry human, deliberately wishing to do harm. It is shown "flattening" itself against the siding and "knifing" the "wounds of time." The wounds of time are the wear that already exists on the aging farm houses. Now, depicted as spiteful, the wind "tear[s]" away the last of the paint. This is likened to ripping off a scab, a metaphor that describes the violence of the weather. All of these images emphasize the damage the Dust Bowl wreaked.
In the second stanza, the imagery of Dust Bowl damage moves to the fields, where the wind is "surging" and "darting" through the fields.
In the third stanza, the destructive imagery moves to focus on humans. A series of negative, dismal images shows the effects of the devastation on human life: "bitter dust" filling "dry" mouths, shoulders "worry-bowed," hair "greying." The word greying is a double entendre, referring to the way stress can turn hair prematurely gray and the way dust got settled into human hair.
The next two stanzas, parts II and III of the poem, contrast the devastation of the first three stanzas to the time before, when the land was rich and helped bring prosperity. In stanza four, positive imagery creates a sharp break with the earlier stanzas: the wheat is like a "giant's bolt of silk" and "an ocean of flecked gold / Sweet as a biscuit." But the stanza also ends on an ominous note: "That was the last good year."
Stanza five continues the lovely and nostalgic imagery of fertility as the speaker looks back to the golden age before the Dust Bowl. In the first part of the stanza, the rich, growing wheat poking up through the soil is likened to a beautiful piece of sewing:
The wheat was embroidering
All the spring morning
Frail threads needled by sunshine like thin gold.
In the second part of the stanza, this growth is explicitly tied to prosperity: the prosperity the Great Depression Dust Bowl wipes out:
A woman's eyes could kiss the soil
From her kitchen window,
Turning its black depths to unchipped cups—a silk crepe dress—
(Two-ninety-eight, Sale Catalogue).
It is notable that the images of embroidery, unchipped cups and a new dress express a woman's perspective. But by the end of the stanza, an ominous note creeps in:
Crops dried out—everywhere—
Finally, the sixth stanza ties together the times before and after the Dust Bowl, using imagery to describe the loss of hope as the drought goes on and on: the sky has a "metal" hardness and "Never a drop [of rain] fell." The sun is "hard," and the stanza ends with effects of the drought on people's spirits:
Cold laughter bending parched lips in a smile
Bleak eyes denied.
Together, the stanzas shows the before and after of a devastating climate disaster that coincided with the stresses of the Great Depression to rob people of hope.