Concerning Necessity Themes
by Hayden Carruth

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Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

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The essential question of the poem is hinted at in the title, “Concerning Necessity.” What, the poet asks, can sustain the speaker in the face of his difficult, rural existence? How can “necessity,” or the determinants of one’s life, be compensated for? This question is often raised in Carruth poems, which usually have a speaker who is alone in nature and is meditating on the meaning of his usually difficult life. In his poem, as in other Carruth poems, the speaker does not turn to metaphysics, to intuitive responses, or to nature for his answers: He looks for and finds them in his loved one—or, as the speaker says at the end of the poem, “right here where I live.”

After depicting the hard work and deteriorating situations of his existence, the speaker says, “this was the world foreknown,” meaning that he had sensed his life would come to this end. He admits to his “delusion” that nature could provide him with the answers he seeks. Like “that idiot Thoreau,” he had held romantic notions that nature can provide the meaning for man’s existence, if he would only search for such meaning. This notion, that man can find the answers to the basic questions of his existence in nature, was one of the dominant ideas of the great Romantic period of American literature, during the nineteenth century. Authors such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Walt Whitman were the more optimistic representatives of this period, and it is their belief in nature’s ability to give complete meaning to man’s existence that the speaker of the poem no longer accepts. Nature, he says, does “serve/ a little though not enough.”

Instead, the speaker realizes, it is “human beauty” that “saves” him and, by implication, also saves “necessity” by compensating for all the hard work and suffering the man and his loved ones undergo. This human beauty is seen in the woman portrayed in stanzas 6 and 7, the one who is “down asleep in the field/ or telling a song to a child,” the one who moves “in some particular way” and makes the speaker “fall in love all over with human beauty” again. Thus, the poem, which begins on a somber, laborious note and turns, in stanza 4, to a meditation on the speaker’s condition, ends with a confirmation: It is the beauty of human beings in his everyday world that provides the speaker with meaning.

This poem, as are so many of Carruth’s poems, is similar in an essential way to the poems of Robert Frost. Using nature as a backdrop, the poets place their personae in extremely difficult, almost overwhelming situations. These personae do not find easy answers in God and nature; rather, they must rely upon their own dogged perseverance and constant searching in order to find meaning in their lives. Carruth, though, goes one step beyond Frost, for he has his speaker find meaning in another human being, in love.