The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Concerning Necessity” is a narrative poem of forty-two lines, which are divided into seven six-line stanzas. Each stanza has inexact, or slant, rhymes in an ababcc scheme. The poem is written in the first person. Although authors often create a persona that is distinct from themselves, the persona of this poem is commonly seen in Hayden Carruth’s poetry: The speaker is a man (a husband and father) who is living in a difficult environment filled with physical labor. To anyone who is aware that Carruth spent more than twenty years of his life as a laborer and handyman in a rural area of Vermont, it is clear that this poem arises from Carruth’s personal experiences.

The poem begins in the first-person plural (“we”), indicating that there are many people who live in the rural hardship described. Stanzas 1, 2, and 3 depict a work-filled, arduous existence, in which he and others live in a “kind of rural twilight.” These stanzas contain precise details of this existence, beginning with stanza 1 and its references to “hard dirt” and “difficult woods.” The emphasis on work is continued in stanza 2, with a catalog of the types of work performed. The use of cataloging, which often occurs in poetry as a list of supportive examples or statements in parallel order, works well here because it intensifies the sense of the relentless labor of these people. The work involved is very physical—for example, driving a wedge, and making a...

(The entire section is 474 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Concerning Necessity” has a formal structure of seven six-line stanzas which employ an ababcc slant-rhyme scheme and a line that varies between six and ten syllables. Within this structure, the poet uses strong images and direct, colloquial statement to convey his concerns. Although this combination may seem contradictory, it is often seen in Carruth’s poetry, with the formal structure helping to “contain” the message of the content.

The slant rhymes are not exact, but each set of rhymes contains an echoing vowel or consonant. For example, the last word of line 1 “live,” echoes the last word of line 3, “giving.” This use of inexact rhyme gives the poem a structure which, at the same time, does not force it into a rigid pattern (as a full rhyme might). In the same way, the six-to-ten-syllable lines give the poem a sense of regularity without a strict syllable count. Most of the lines are six or seven syllables, and this repetition of length creates a strong rhythmic expectation, as may be seen clearly in the last four lines of stanza 2: “dig the potato patch/ dig ashes dig gravel/ tickle the dyspeptic chain saw/ make him snarl once more.”

Appropriately for a poem about the difficult lives of people living in rural areas, Carruth often uses simple declarative statements that contain colloquial words and direct, easily understood images. Since this is a poem about people working in a natural environment, the...

(The entire section is 486 words.)