The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Henry Taylor’s “Landscape with Tractor” is a mid-length poem in free verse, written in twelve four-line stanzas. Although mildly evoking the pacing and feel of blank verse, the poem employs no formal metrical device. In terms of its carefully plotted visual arrangement and disciplined emphasis on rhythm, however, “Landscape with Tractor” establishes and maintains a sense of order and control that reinforces its principal thematic concerns.

The poem is written in the first person, with the speaker relating an apparently hypothetical event in the form of long rhetorical questions. The most unusual aspect is the fact that the speaker continually addresses his reader or listener as “you”; because the person being addressed is also the person performing the apparently hypothetical actions of the poem, the actions are also performed by “you” (“you’re mowing,” “you keep going,” and so on). This device suggests a deliberate attempt on the part of the speaker to distance himself from the action of the poem. It also lends this startling poem its unique character, reinforcing its playful equivocation and offhanded ambiguity.

The poem begins with a rhetorical question that serves as both the formal and thematic locus of the poem. Asking the reader “How would it be if you,” the speaker plunges into a surrealistic narrative reminiscent of the fictive musings of Magical Realists such as Jorge Luis Borges or Franz Kafka. The poem proposes a situation...

(The entire section is 609 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Taylor is best characterized as a narrative poet. His work is rich with the flavor of a storytelling tradition inherited from his Quaker roots. Thus many Taylor poems, “Landscape with Tractor” being no exception, are replete with the techniques and trappings of a good story—setting, character, conflict, and resolution (or at least a yearning for resolution). Taylor’s meticulous attention to visual arrangement and structure reinforce a central theme of the work, the role of the artificer in the execution of his art. “Landscape with Tractor” concerns the storyteller as much as it does the story, and its appearance on the page shows the reader just how much presentation can impact interpretation. The tight, regularly arranged stanzaic pattern suggests at every moment, in an otherwise stylistically unobtrusive poem, the omnipresent hand of the artisan. Likewise, the call-and-response pattern suggested by the poem’s rhetorical questions reminds the reader that poetry may be as much about the nature and practice of questioning itself as it is about providing “answers” to life’s most stirring questions.

The dead body and the bushhog-steering man mowing stand out as the two images in “Landscape with Tractor” that convey the most resonance. Each suggests a wealth of interpretive possibilities, some of which have already been alluded to. For example, the corpse, as well as the man’s enigmatic attraction toward it, may represent the human...

(The entire section is 434 words.)