In this poem, the poet talks about a place that is somewhere in her country. Some incidents that happened in the past makes the speaker of this poem, ‘What Kind of Times Are These’ realize that it is not safe to disclose the location. It seems that the place is where the change-makers regroove and discuss the problems of a country. Whatsoever, this is a poem questioning what is happening around the globe. Truthfulness has no value and deception has gained importance. At this critical juncture, the poet says it is time to listen and above all to speak up!
In this poem, Rich refers to an unknown place that is between two stands of trees. There the grass grows uphill and the old road breaks off into shadows. The speaker of the poem then talks about an abandoned meeting-house. Thereafter, she tells the readers that she has walked there picking mushrooms and the place is not somewhere else. It is somewhere in the country but she cannot disclose its location. She knows if she does so those who are in power will make it disappear. Lastly, she says to the readers, “Because you will listen, because in times like these/ to have you listen at all.” At the end of the poem, the poet reveals the motive behind writing this poem.
You can read the full poem here.
This is a simple poem and straightforward in its meaning. The title of the poem, ‘What Kind of Times Are These’, is a reference to the modern world that is burdened with several problems. At the core of these problems, one can find that these are man-made. Some sowed the seeds at some point in the past. Now, humanity is suffering from the problems grown out of those little seeds. However, in this poem, the first few stanzas do not have a direct reference to the problem. At the end of the poem, she makes it clear to the readers. It is about the trees that are disappearing from the face of the earth gradually. The tragedy is there is no one to talk about it openly.
‘What Kind of Times Are These’ is a lyric poem that consists of four stanzas and each stanza contains four lines. There is not any specific rhyme scheme in this poem. However, in the first two stanzas, the second and fourth lines rhyme together. The poet also uses slant rhymes in some instances. Apart from that, the line-length of the poem is not regular and does not have a set metrical pattern. Hence, the overall poem is in free verse. However, it is important to note here that the poet mostly uses the iambic meter in this poem.
This poem is written by using the literary device called enjambment. It helps the poet to connect the lines internally. Thereafter, the poet uses alliteration in this poem. As an example, “grass grows” contains an alliteration of the “g” sound. There is a personal metaphor in the phrase, “the old revolutionary road.” Rich also uses metaphors in this poem. The phrase, “the edge of dread” is a metaphor for the place about which the poet talks in this poem. In the second stanza, the poet uses an allusion to the poem, ‘To Those Who Follow in Our Wake’ by Bertolt Brecht. Thereafter, in the third stanza, the poet uses asyndeton in the last line. The last stanza contains a rhetorical question at the beginning.
Analysis, Stanza by Stanza
There’s a place between two stands of trees where the grass grows uphill
who disappeared into those shadows.
Rich’s ‘What Kind of Times Are These’ begins with a mysterious reference to a place. It is somewhere between two stands of trees where the grass grows uphill and the road breaks off into shadows. Here the poet uses a metaphor in “the old revolutionary road.” It is a reference to the road where once the revolutionaries, eager to change the world, tread upon. Thereafter, the “shadows” at the end of that road is an implicit reference to the future of those people who tried to bring change.
There is a meeting-house at that place. Those who nurtured revolutionary thoughts once met there. But the men in power persecuted them for stopping the spread of their thoughts. Henceforth the house is now abandoned. Those people have disappeared into the shadows that break off at the end of the road.
I’ve walked there picking mushrooms at the edge of dread, but don’t be fooled
its own ways of making people disappear.
In the second stanza of the poem, the speaker says she has walked there picking mushrooms at the edge of the road. But readers should not be fooled, as this is not Brecht’s poem. The place mentioned in the poem is not somewhere else. It is there in her country. Thereafter, the speaker says the country is moving closer to its truth and dread. Here, the poet refers to those men who are in power. Those who speak up against them, are persecuted. They have their ways of making those people disappear.
I won’t tell you where the place is, the dark mesh of the woods
I know already who wants to buy it, sell it, make it disappear.
In the third stanza of ‘What Kind of Times Are These’, the speaker is unwilling to tell others about that place. However, she gives a hint of where the place might be. It is in “the dark mesh of the woods/ meeting the unmarked strip of light.” The crossroads at that place are ghost-ridden. But it is a “leafmold paradise” for those who love and nurture nature. The speaker already knows who wants to acquire that place and make this place disappear too.
And I won’t tell you where it is, so why do I tell you
to talk about trees.
The last stanza of the poem begins as the previous stanza. Here the poet emphasizes the fact that she is not going to tell anyone about the place. She knows if she does so, one day that place will turn into a lifeless palace of concrete or something else. However, she asks readers why she is telling them all these things. Because the inherent goodness inside very few people is still intact. In times like these to have readers who can understand the poet, gives her satisfaction. At last, she firmly says, “it’s necessary to talk about trees.” It is the need of the hour to think about trees not for the environmentalists’ sake, but for ourselves!
The great feminist poet and activist Adrienne Rich wrote this poem, ‘What Kind of Times Are These’ in 1991. It was published in her “Collected Poems: 1950-2012.” Half a century ago, in 1930, the exiled German poet Bertolt Brecht posed a question in his poem, ‘To Those Who Follow in Our Wake’. In this poem, Brecht says:
What times are these, in which
A conversation about trees is almost a crime
For in doing so we maintain our silence about so much wrongdoing!
In her poem, Rich picked up Brecht’s ironic question and put her viewpoint to the readers. Brecht says, “so we maintain our silence.” But, Rich firmly opposes that idea and suggests others to be vocal as “it’s necessary to talk about trees.”
The following poems are similar to the themes present in Rich’s poem, ‘What Kind of Times Are These’:
- Trees by Joyce Kilmer – This poem contains a declaration that no art can outdo God’s creations, especially not a tree.
- Trees by Owen Sheers – This poem deals with the issues of family and nature, combining them in an extended metaphor of trees growing.
- The Trees Are Down by Charlotte Mew – In this poem, the poet describes her reaction to the felling of trees.
- The Trees by Philip Larkin – This one of the best Philip Larkin poems is a commentary on life and an examination of nature’s details.
You can read about Top 10 Adrienne Rich Poems here.