Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Contemporary writers who, like Warren, were born at the beginning of the twentieth century have lived through the most rapid and spectacular social changes of any comparable period of history. This is particularly true for the South, which lingered in the rural, agrarian mode longer than other areas of the United States. Presumably at least, the backcountry does not even exist anymore. There is no place quite so isolated in its social choices, so insulated from information about the outside world, and so limited in its resources for entertainment or inspiration.

Although this poem provides a humorous commentary on the limitations of life in the backcountry, particularly the emotional poverty that at times led to what some would call religious hysteria, Warren approaches this time with a gentle and tolerant mood. Warren was and remained an unbeliever of strict fundamentalist religion. Yet he recognized that it answered a need that all people have, especially those who cannot distract themselves with the toys of a modern industrial society.

No matter what the excesses of revivalist camp meetings, these emotional encounters renewed a dream of salvation in lives that were often grim and repetitive. They assuaged what the poet calls “The late-season pain gnawing deep at the human bone.”

Traveling preachers in the backcountry were often totally untrained for their calling. It was literally a calling—that is, they responded to a...

(The entire section is 511 words.)