The poem is direct. It uses simple, easy-to-understand language that any reader should be confident with. This allows the poet to address topics clearly, including the speaker’s experience as he watches the cotton disappear into the distance in ‘Field Poem.’
Explore Field Poem
‘Field Poem’ by Gary Soto is a fairly simple poem about a speaker’s experience working in and leaving cotton fields.
The lines of the poem describe the final moments of the day as the foreman whistles, the men gather and get on the bus that takes them away from the fields. They talk, consider what they will and won’t spend their money on, and watch as the cotton plants wave goodbye with “small hands.” The poet uses imagery, like the broken bus window, to provide the reader with insight into the speaker’s and his brother’s world.
You can read the full poem here.
When the foreman whistled
My brother and I
Shouldered our hoes,
The tickets to a dance
We wouldn’t buy with our pay.
In the first stanza of ‘Field Poem,’ the speaker begins by bringing the reader directly into a scene. This is a literary technique known as in medias res. The reader has to figure out details as they go along. There is no preamble to the action. The central narrative focuses on the speaker and his brother. They’re leaving the cotton fields behind for the day, carrying their hoes, and following the foreman. The whistle is their signal that it’s time to go home.
It’s clear from the first lines that this is something that’s happened many times before and is going to happen again the next day and the next.
The speaker and his brother leave the fields and get on the bus. Together, they speak in “broken English” and “broken Spanish.” This either suggests that they don’t fit in with the English speakers or the Spanish speakers or that around them are people speaking in both. Considering the poem is written in English, the second option seems more likely. The two talk, presumably with the other workers, about what they “wouldn’t buy with” their pay. This is a simple suggestion of economic hardship and the restraints that their situation puts on their ability to enjoy their lives.
From the smashed bus window,
Like small hands waving good-bye.
The final three lines of the poem are moving. They are far more lyrical than the previous. The “small hands” of the “cotton plants” wave bye as the bus drives away. This may suggest that the work is done for the season or that it’s simply done for the day. The simile is an interesting one and helps to build the reader’s understanding of the speaker’s world.
The smashed bus window is another interesting image. It’s a reminder that things are far from perfect. In fact, the speaker is existing in a world where things are falling apart and may not be fixed again. Readers might be left with a few questions at the end of this poem, such as where the brothers are returning to, what the lives of their fellow workers are like, and if they’re going to economically be able to survive the next days, weeks, and months of their lives.
Structure and Form
‘Field Poem’ by Gary Soto is a two-stanza narrative poem. It is divided into one set of ten lines and one tercet or set of three lines. These lines are written in free verse. This means that they do not follow a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. There are a few examples of rhyme in the text, though. For instance, “i” and “good-bye” at the beginning and end of the poem.
Throughout ‘Field Poem,’ the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Enjambment: can be seen when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines one and two of the first stanza as well as lines two and three of the second stanza.
- Imagery: occurs when the poet uses powerful and easy-to-imagine descriptions. For example, “I saw the leaves of cotton plants / Like small hands waving good-bye.”
- Simile: the previous phrase, “I saw the leaves of cotton plants / Like small hands waving good-bye,” is also an example of a simile. It occurs when a comparison is made between two unlike things using “like” or “as.”
- Repetition: can be seen when words, ideas, images, or structures are repeated. For example, the use of “In broken English, in broken Spanish” in the first stanza. This is also an example of parallelism.
- Anaphora: occurs when the same words are repeated at the beginning of lines. For example, “The” which is used twice in the first stanza.
The tone is descriptive. This narrative poem is very direct and clear. There are no overly emotional passages or subjective details. The only lyrical lines come at the end when the speaker describes the cotton waving goodbye. This is suggestive of a feeling of nostalgia.
The purpose is to share a simple moment in the life of one working man. It brings readers into a world they might not be familiar with but that they will quickly understand better.
The mood is contemplative and curious. Readers are likely going to be left with a few questions in regard to who the speaker is and where he’s going from the field. Will they return the next day? Or is his work done for the year?
The themes are the importance of everyday life/work and life struggles. The speaker alludes, although briefly, to the economic hardship the speaker, his brother, and the other workers are dealing with. This is something that many are likely going to be able to relate to.
Readers who enjoyed ‘Field Poem’ should also consider reading other Gary Soto poems. For example:
- ‘Oranges’ – a charming narrative poem. It tells a story about a young boy on his first date.
Other related poems include:
- ‘Follower’ by Seamus Heaney – a retrospective piece that describes how the poet used to go plowing with his father in his childhood days.
- ‘Stony Grey Soil’ by Patrick Kavanagh – describes the poet’s own youth and the joys that his home, Monaghan, took from him.
- ‘The Poplar Field’ by William Cowper – describes the destruction of a field of poplar trees and how its loss allows a speaker to reflect on his death.