Quivira City Limits

Kevin Young

‘Quivira City Limits’ is a poem about the poet Kevin Young’s nostalgia concerning his childhood days in Topeka, Kansas. Though he was born in Lincoln, Nebraska, he had grown a deep attachment with the lush fields of the city precincts.


Kevin Young

Nationality: American

Kevin Young is a contemporary American poet and teacher.

He’s worked as the director of the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of African American History.

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Kevin Young dedicated ‘Quivira City Limits’ to Thomas Fox Averill, a writer and academic from Topeka, Kansas. Averill taught at Washburn University where Young attended a summer writing class at the age of thirteen. From then, he not only started to develop writing skills but also developed a strong relationship with the town of Topeka. In this poem, he talks about the bond he shares with the city as well as with its fields that attracted the Spanish conquistador Coronado in the 16th century.

Quivira City Limits by Kevin Young


‘Quivira City Limits’ by Kevin Young describes the beauty of Kansas’ fields and shares the history of the place with impassioned terms.

This poem begins with a direct address to Averill to whom the poem is dedicated. The speaker of this piece, Young, tells his co-passenger to stop by the fields somewhere outside the limits of Topeka town. He welcomes him to enjoy the rustic scene where a rusted tractor stands by. In an epigrammatic tone, he tells his Averill that the world was never too small. The advanced transportation brought the regions closer. He goes on to share the story of Spanish conquistador Coronado who once stepped on this rich land in search of gold. However, he had a disappointing end but this land does not disappoint the speaker.

You can read the full poem here.

Detailed Analysis

Lines 1-6

Pull over. Your car with its slow


of paint. Red. You had to see

The poem ‘Quivira City Limits’ is addressed to Young’s teacher at Washburn University Thomas Fox Averill. It begins with a reference to Averill as Young’s journey-mate. He tells his teacher to slowly pull over his car outside the city limits of Topeka. There is an allusion to Quivira, one of the mythical Seven Cities of Gold, the location of which is believed to be in Kansas. It seems Young is hinting at this place in the first lines.

When he stops by the precincts of Topeka, suddenly everything around him starts to matter again. He had spent his childhood there, grown up with the fields, and sought inspiration from there. He already had a deep connection with this place, so had his teacher from Topeka.

In the fields, they can find the rusted tractors blooming like flowers. According to the speaker, they need a good coat of paint, maybe “Red”. In this way, Young tries to relive his past and breathe the comforting air of Kansas once again, not physically but poetically.

Lines 7-12

for yourself, didn’t you; see that the world


dead Indian. To discover why Coronado

His good, old friend has to visualize the scene himself. There is no need for Young to dive into minute details for Averill as he was also born and brought up in that place. The latter is also appreciative of beautiful Kansas.

Young makes use of an epigram in order to hint at the past expeditions led by the Spanish conqueror Coronado. He interestingly says that the world has never turned too small for us. The transportation just got better. Now, they can quickly roam the outskirts by their car. Previously, it was a really tedious task to reach there merely on foot.

He again uses another epigrammatic remark concerning our knowledge of a place. One’s knowledge about his own land should not be revolving around its modern fame such as the baseball team of Kansas. He has to enrich himself with the place’s history. 

When Young looks back, he can breathe in the pain of a dead Indian who once lived in the fields of Kansas. He is also aware of the expeditions of Coronado who ventured to the lands of Kansas in search of the golden city of Quivira.

Lines 13-18

pushed up here, following the guide


sick, a sea. While they strangle

Coronado, the Spanish conquistador, named the place Quivira in 1541 for the mythical Seven Cities of Gold that he never came across. His zeal pushed him up there in the 1540s. An indigenous informant “The Turk” guided him all the way to the imaginary city of Quivira. He informed Coronado that he knew about the “fields of gold”. It seems he was probably using rhetorics in order to point at the fields full of “golden” grains.

The guide led him north in search of Quivira. They moved past the fields where the speaker and his teacher are now standing. They might have come across the same buffaloes now grazing in front of them. Young uses a simile to compare the complexion of the guide to that of the “dark buffaloes”.

However, the expedition failed. They found nothing but the “golden” fields of wheat that made them sick. By the term “sea”, Young refers to the large Arkansas river.

Lines 19-24

him blue as the sky above you


thousand bones carry, now call home.

Coronado was so disappointed with his long, arduous expedition that the water of Arkansas made him mentally sick. Young uses personification in order to portray how the river water strangled some of the Spaniards. They died by drowning in the river. He uses a simile to depict how their bodies turned blue as the sky.

The poetic persona thinks when Coronado felt that all he was doing was enough. According to him, the “wide open” what they called a discovery was nothing but a chapter of disappointment and dissatisfaction of their life.

For Young, he does not ever feel disappointed with the rich lands of Kansas. Whenever he visits this place, he feels rejuvenated. It is the place that carries his thousand metaphorical “bones”, a reference to his identity. He proudly calls this place, “home”.


Young’s ‘Quivira City Limits’ is written in the form of a dramatic monologue. In this piece, the main speaker is the poet himself and he addresses his teacher Averill throughout. The latter is depicted as a mute listener who enjoys the scenic beauty of Topeka along with the speaker. The overall poem consists of twelve couplets that do not contain a regular rhyme scheme. Besides, there is not any set meter. Thus, it is an example of a free-verse lyric poem.

Literary Devices

Young uses the following literary devices in this poem.

  • Enjambment: It occurs throughout the text. Young enjambs the lines of neighboring stanzas in order to create an interconnection of ideas.
  • Allusion: The title of this piece is an allusion to one of the “Seven Cities of Gold”, Quivira. In this piece, Young also alludes to the Spanish conqueror Francisco Vásquez de Coronado.
  • Simile: It occurs in “past buffaloes dark as he was” and “him blue as the sky above you”.
  • Rhetorical Question: It can be found in this line “when will all this ever be enough?”

Historical Context

‘Quivira City Limits’ was published in Kevin Young’s debut collection Most Way Home. It was first published as a thesis in 1992. Later, it was published by William Morrow in 1995. Young wrote much of this collection while still an undergraduate. In the poems from this collection, Young explores his own family’s narratives. In the poem ‘Quivira City Limits,’ he explores his love for Kansas where he spent most part of his childhood. He began to pursue writing when he was living there, after attending Thomas Fox Averill’s writing workshop. This piece is addressed to his teacher Averill.


When was the poem ‘Quivira City Limits’ published?

The poem was first published in Kevin Young’s graduation thesis in 1992. Later, it was published as his debut poetry collection in 1995.

What is Quivira?

Quivira is one of the Seven Cities of Gold. It is a mythical city that was popular in the 16th century. The Spanish conqueror Francisco Vásquez de Coronado named the place in 1542.

What are the allusions in the poem?

In this poem, Young alludes to one of the Seven Cities of Gold, Quivira, and the conqueror Coronado who led an expedition in search of gold.

What type of poem is ‘Quivira City Limits’?

It is a free-verse lyric poem that is written in the form of a dramatic monologue. Young addresses this piece to his teacher Thomas Fox Averill.

What is the theme of this poem?

This poem taps on the themes of history, myth, identity, and nostalgia. The main theme of this piece concerns Young’s bond with the city of Kansas.

Similar Poems

Readers who enjoyed ‘Quivira City Limits’ would consider reading the following Kevin Young poems.

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Sudip Das Gupta Poetry Expert
A complete expert on poetry, Sudip graduated with a first-class B.A. Honors Degree in English Literature. He has a passion for analyzing poetic works with a particular emphasis on literary devices and scansion.

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