Anne Marriott's poem “The Wind Our Enemy” paints a vivid picture of life on the Canadian prairies during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Farmers in this part of the country were hard hit by droughts, hailstorms, and grasshopper invasions. Sometimes their crops simply withered in the fields. The wind picked up and blew the dry earth into massive dust storms. The dust penetrated every aspect of people's homes and lives. There was no escaping it. The Canadian government did little to help, insisting that local and provincial governments should step up and take charge of relief efforts. By the mid-1930s, there was some relief in place, and people accepted it out of necessity as their crops and animals continued to die, and they faced hunger and devastating poverty.
Let's look at each of the first six stanzas in “The Wind Our Enemy” and see how they illustrate these Depression-era trials. The first stanza focuses on the wind, which was nearly constant during these years of drought and dust. It fills everything with dust, and people worry how they are going to survive these difficulty times.
The second and third stanzas look backwards to the days when the crops were rich and beautiful, when they meant hope for the farmers of the prairie. People loved their land; to them, it represented promise and hope. A man thinks of his bulging granaries, a woman of the pretty things she might buy with the profits. But then the sun bakes the earth, and the rain fails to fall, and the crops dry out.
The fourth stanza presents human hope and disappointment. The people watch for rain and continually hope that next year will be better. But even an approaching thunderstorm does not bring rain. People laugh bitterly and say that the clouds are “Just empties goin' back!”
The fifth stanza describes the drought's effects on animals. Horses once powerful are now spiritless and dying from dehydration. The plight of old Nellie touches readers' hearts as they watch her stumble and fall.
The sixth stanza focuses on relief, minimal as it is. The people want so much to stand on their own, but they desperately need help. They are cold and hungry. The children have difficulty learning even though they still go to school. Even the government relief that comes is meager, and some people have to travel far to get the leftovers. Yet they tell themselves that others have it worse than they do, and they turn to entertainment for distraction.
We can see, then, how well this poem illustrates the conditions of the prairie during the Depression and the feelings of the people who suffered from it.