James K. Baxter

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What are the themes of James K. Baxter's poem "Farmhand"?

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James Baxter's poem "Farmhand" deals primarily with themes of longing and loneliness. The eponymous farmhand enviously looks on as girls dance on the dance floor, and while watching the girls, he reflects upon his own loneliness.

The farmhand seems to be something of a loner, which is symbolized by the...

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James Baxter's poem "Farmhand" deals primarily with themes of longing and loneliness. The eponymous farmhand enviously looks on as girls dance on the dance floor, and while watching the girls, he reflects upon his own loneliness.

The farmhand seems to be something of a loner, which is symbolized by the fact that, in the poem, he stands only at "the hall door," unable or unwilling to enter. However, he longs for the company of a girl. Indeed, his eyes "always ... turn / To the dance floor and the girls." The word "always" here suggests an inevitability and a helplessness. He seems helplessly drawn to that which he can't have. The farmhand's loneliness also seems to be source of pain for him. It is described in the poem, metaphorically, as "an old wound open." The fact that the "wound" is "open" emphasizes that the farmhand's loneliness is a source of enduring, constant pain.

However, the farmhand does seem to take some solace in his work. Although he has "no girl to run her fingers through / His sandy hair," he is "effortless and strong" when he works, and he does seem also to have an affection for his work. This affection is indicated in the last stanza of the poem when he is described as "listening like a lover to the song ... of a new tractor engine." The simile here, "like a lover," suggests that there is an affinity between the farmhand and his work.

Although the farmhand seems, in the second half of the poem, to take solace in his work, this solace is nonetheless undermined by the loneliness established in the first half of the poem. The work described at the end of the poem seems somewhat hollow when balanced against the loneliness described at the beginning.

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