Vachel Lindsay

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What is the theme of natural world destruction in "The Flower-fed Buffaloes" by Vachel Lindsay?

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In "The Flower-Fed Buffaloes," Vachel Lindsay mourns the disappearance of buffaloes from the American environment.   Millions of buffalo (or, perhaps more correctly, bison) were slaughtered in the 19th century.

Lindsay romanticizes the buffalo by referring to them as "flower-fed," thus contrasting them with the environment that replaced them: locomotives, wheat fields, and "Wheels and wheels and wheels spin[ning] by."

Lindsay also portrays some aspects of the buffalo that might be considered negative: "They gore no more, they bellow no more..."

The last three lines of the poem could be interpreted in different ways:

They gore no more, they bellow no more:--
With the Blackfeet lying low,
With the Pawnee lying low.

What does Lindsay mean to say about the two tribes, the Blackfeet and the Pawnee, "lying low."  Does he mean that members of these tribes used to lie low when they hid themselves while hunting for buffalo?  Or does he mean that  these tribes, along with the herds of buffalo, have been greatly depleted?  There are historians who maintain that the U.S. government encouraged the slaughter of buffalo in order to drive away the Native Americans who depended on them for their livelihood (but who, it should be noted, did not seriously deplete the herds, despite having hunted them for centuries).

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How does "The Flower-Fed Buffaloes" by Vachel Lindsay convey the feelings about human destruction of the natural world?

When this poem starts out, it seems like it is going to be nostalgic for a pastoral past and lament of industrialized future. But this is not the case here. The locomotives “sing.” Lindsay could’ve chosen to use “roar” or “crunch.” Using “sing,” he shows that this historical progression is not necessarily bad. The railways will destroy some of the prairie, but this isn’t inherently bad. He notes that the “spring is still sweet” amidst the rolling of the wheels. The flower-fed buffalo of the past are gone and the Native Americans who preyed on them are also gone. Word choice is important here. The buffalo are gone and so they don’t “gore” or “bellow” anymore. Lindsay is making the point that to savor a memory of this rustic America, but it is also a savage past and historical progress can be optimistic. When things are destroyed or lost, others are created.

The prairie flowers, the Pawnee and the Blackfeet are not gone. But they lie low, which means that they are not a part of this landscape anymore but their memory is. With the descriptions of the buffalo “goring” on the flowers, and the locomotive “singing,” we get the implication that this historical transition is not some evil human destruction of the natural world. It is just progress and should be interpreted optimistically. By mentioning the Pawnee and Blackfeet who hunted buffalo, Lindsay may have been doing one (or two things). First, since the hunt is a savage, violent image, this part of the past is not to be lamented since the buffalo were nearly wiped out. So, trading transportation for a hunt towards extinction is not necessarily bad. Lindsay might also have been connoting “Indian” with “savage,” which by today’s perspective would be racist or stereotypical. Then again, their decrease in population, due to Western expansion, disease and war with European Americans in the 19th century could be compared to the loss of buffalo and the industrialization of the prairie.

Overall, this poem symbolizes the past as beautiful but violent. As for the future, the glass is half-full.

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Discuss how "The Flower-Fed Buffaloes" by Vachel Lindsay and "Report to Wordsworth" by Boey Kim Cheng deal with the destruction of nature.

Vachel Lindsay's "The Flower-Fed Buffaloes" speaks of the destruction of nature by comparing "days of long ago" to contemporary days where now "locomotives" and the lost and gone "prarie flowers lie low," or have ceased to be. He further says the prairie's "perfumed grass" has been "swept away" by the cultivated farmland fields of wheat that is planted, grown and carried away at harvest by "wheels and wheels and wheels" that "spin by." He ends this poem by saying the buffalo themselves "gore no more [and] bellow no more," for they, along with the Blackfeet and Pawnee Indian tribes of the prairie are now "lying low," side by side with the prairie flowers.

Boey Kim Cheng's "Report to Wordsworth," which begins with a summons to Wordsworth ("You should be here ..."), speaks of the destruction of nature by enumerating things by which nature "has been laid waste": "smog," "waste we dump," "insatiate man." Cheng lists the effects upon nature of these waste layers, using mighty and original--and seemingly contradictory--imagery to show the destruction: e.g., "flowers are mute," Neptune is "helpless as beached as a whale," "Nature's mighty heart is ... still." Cheng ends this sonnet by describing the "wound" in the sky and God's labors to "utter his last cry," thus equating God with nature and reflecting Romantic era sensibilities about the preeminence of nature.

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