Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Where” is a mythic poem about a “paradise lost” and the possibility of regaining that lost Eden. It is a parable of the American frontier and an indictment of the cultural habits and attitudes that resulted in massive environmental destruction. It is an exploration of the cultural mind-set that heedlessly exploited and wasted the natural resources of the land. The history of the narrator’s farmland has been one of neglect and misuse. Yet there is some reason for hope. The narrator has chosen to return here, he has laid his claim to this land, and he is in a position to benefit from the mistakes of the past. The knowledge he carries with him is reason for song. Like the clear song of the redbird—“Even/ so. Even so.”—there is reason for hope in the narrator’s stubborn loyalty to his native land.

Elsewhere, in the autobiographical essay “The Long-Legged House,” Berry has written about how hard it is to acquire a genuine sense of place. “Where” describes in part the process of assimilation to a place, an important theme in Berry’s work. The poem chronicles his return to the region where he was born and where both sides of his family had lived for generations. For him, buying the Lane’s Landing farm meant establishing himself in the region where he could be in touch with the “profound and mysterious knowledge that is inherited, handed down in memories and names and gestures and feelings, and in tones and inflections...

(The entire section is 411 words.)