Poem Analysis for "Abandoned Farmhouse" by Kooser
Analyzing a poem involves examining literary devices, themes and main ideas, and the form of the poem. Ted Kooser's "Abandoned Farmhouse" conveys a lonely and sad sentiment throughout the poem. The characters, who are present only through their material possessions and surroundings, are revealed to the reader through a close reading of all they've left behind.
Some prominent themes in this poem are failure, abandonment and different ways of seeing. Kooser writes that the man was "not a man for farming." Given the fact that the man lived with his family in a barn on a farm, his inability to farm well could translate into an inability to be a breadwinner for his family. Kooser also writes that "money was scarce" for the family. This may have led to a sense of failure or unhappiness in the father/husband.
Kooser also makes reference to "the weed-choked yard." This image implies the theme of abandonment, whether from the physical absence of the family or from an abandonment that took place while they were still living there. A person can be physically present while still exhibiting signs of abandonment. For example, despite having given up and stopped trying to grow and improve, you can still absently continue to show up for class every day; this, too, is a form of abandonment.
Ultimately, the form of the poem conveys the theme of different ways of seeing. It takes a less explicit manner of seeing and reading the world to be able to use the objects in the home, as the poem does, to reveal so much about the absent family. This method of reading the world can give more insight into people's deeper struggles and motivations.
Kooser writes that the child's "toys are strewn in the yard/like branches after a storm." This simile, using the word "like" to compare the toys to scattered branches, emphasizes the haphazard quality of the scene. The reader can infer that like a natural storm, this family has endured a metaphorical "storm" -- some kind of crisis that has led to the abandonment of their home.
The poem employs personification -- the act of assigning human attributes to a non-human thing -- to help tell the story of the man and his family. The people in the family are never physically present in the poem; instead, the reader meets them through the perceptions of the objects in the house. For example, the bed is personified when it "says" that the man was tall; the sandbox is personified when it "says" the family had a child.
The poem uses the literary technique of alliteration, creating a pattern of sound by starting words with the same letter, to create a musical flow in the piece. For example, Kooser writes about the "good, God-fearing man," placing the two G words beside each other. In the next line he writes of the "Bible with a broken back," assembling three B words in close proximity. This tool, like rhyming, can add a sense beauty to the sound of the poem.
Soheila Battaglia is a published and award-winning author and filmmaker. She holds an MA in literary cultures from New York University and a BA in ethnic studies from UC Berkeley. She is a college professor of literature and composition.