The Freaks at Spurgin Road Field by Richard Hugo

Richard Hugo

‘The Freaks at Spurgin Road Field’ by Richard Hugo describes how everyone is at risk from going along with a group’s actions and not thinking for themselves. 


Richard Hugo

Nationality: American

Richard Hugo was born in 1923 in the Pacific Northwest.

He studied at the University of Washington along with Theodore Roethke.

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This poem was first published in Making Certain It Goes On: The Collected Poems of Richard Hugo in 1984. It represents Hugo’s clever use of language and style of verse. The poem is filled with images, many of which are left up for interpretation by the reader. But, the atmosphere of the poem, one of shame and regret, is constant. There is no escaping the speaker’s memories or thoughts in ‘The Freaks at Spurgin Road Field.’ 

The Freaks at Spurgin Road Field by Richard Hugo


The Freaks at Spurgin Road Field’ by Richard Hugo speaks to one individual’s regret and wish that they’d broken from the group and gone their own way.

The poet is set at Spurgin Road Field, known today as West Side Field. The poem describes a “dim boy” who claps because others do. Throughout the poem, this image is related to the way that the speaker, and many others, go along with the consensus in order to fit in. The speaker expresses regret over this fact, suggesting that there was an event in his life that he took part in because everyone else was. 

The mind, he adds, moves back or steps out of the way to side with and join in mob mentality (this line could also be interpreted as the speaker expressing frustration over how his mind continues to return to a specific event from his past). 

You can read the full poem here.


The poem’s meaning is that all people, and all minds, can step aside and allow the group mentality, also sometimes known as mob mentality, to take over and control what they do. This remains true even if an individual knows that they should not engage in an action or should, contrary to popular opinion, do something different. 

Structure and Form 

The Freaks at Spurgin Road Field’ by Richard Hugo is a six-stanza poem divided into sets of three lines, known as tercets and one find quatrain. This arrangement of lines and the repetition of two refrains make the poem a villanelle. But one that doesn’t use a specific rhyme scheme. Traditionally, villanelles follow a rhyme scheme of ABA ABA ABA ABA ABA ABAA with the refrain serving as the same end rhyme for multiple lines.

Literary Devices 

Throughout this poem, the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to: 

  • Anaphora: occurs when the poet repeats the same word or words at the beginning of multiple lines. For example, “The” at the beginning of lines one and two of the first stanza. 
  • Caesura: an intentional pause in the middle of a line. This is created through the use of punctuation or a natural pause in the meter. For example, “Score, 5 to 3. Pitcher fading badly in the heat.”
  • Alliteration: occurs when the poet repeats the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple words. For example, “claps” and “clap” in line one of stanza one and “wrong” and “way” in line three of stanza five. 
  • Imagery: occurs when the poet uses particularly interesting descriptions. For example, “to stammering pastures where the picnic should have worked.”

Detailed Analysis 

Stanzas One and Two 

The dim boy claps because the others clap.


The dim boy claps because the others clap.

In the first few lines of this poem, the poet begins by using a line that becomes a refrain. The poet describes a “dim boy,” or as the poem reveals, a boy who is likely mentally handicapped in some way is clapping because everyone else is. The assertion here is that he doesn’t understand exactly what’s happening but wants to go along with everyone else because that feels right. 

The polite word for the boy’s disability, “handicapped,” is muttered around him. This is the first reference to the setting (besides the title) that Hugo includes in the text. The poem takes place at a baseball game, and the speaker is looking back on a memory that still makes him feel guilty. 

The reference to the speaker’s mind is an interesting one. One could suggest that his mind is returning, again and again, to a moment from the past. Or he could be alluding to how one mind steps aside to favor the opinion of a group. 

The event he’s thinking about could be related to the memory of the “dim boy” from stanza one but is never fully defined. It’s unclear at this point how the child fits into the narrative, but the whispers behind this child’s back could allude to his and others’ mistreatment of the disabled child (and/or others like him). He expresses regret and guilt for whatever he did and compares his feelings to “contrite, dirt.” 

Stanzas Three and Four 

Score, 5 to 3. Pitcher fading badly in the heat.   


The dim boy claps because the others clap.

In the next lines, the speaker brings in a series of images from the baseball game in 1946, including the score and the “Pitcher fading badly in the heat.” The poet’s unique means of combining memories into one stream-of-consciousness feeling narrative has made this poem as popular as it is. 

The speaker also uses anaphora, repeating the phrase “Isn’t it wrong” at the beginning of lines two and three of stanza three. Here, he can mimic the pattern of the speaker’s thoughts. His mind is going in circles and keeps bringing him back to “laughing at a neighbor girl beaten to scream / by a savage father,” and he’s ashamed to look back at the event. 

He laughed because others laughed, but that’s no excuse, he suggests. He knew better. He isn’t like the “dim boy” who claps when everyone else does. The speaker should know the proper way to behave.

Stanzas Five and Six 

The score is always close, the rally always short.   


to stammering pastures where the picnic should have worked.   

The dim boy claps because the others clap.

In the final stanza, the poet includes more images of the game, the way the crowd cheers in unison is used as an allusion to the behavior of groups, also known as mob mentality. His presence has not improved bad situations, he suggests. He’s gone through life and the game at “Spurgin Road Field” laughing at things he shouldn’t, and now, sometime in the future, it’s bothering him. 

The final stanza is four lines long, setting it apart as the only quatrain in the poem (an indicator that this poem is a version of a villanelle). It repeats much of what the poet said in the previous lines and concludes with the final refrain, “The dim boy clap because the others clap.”


What is the tone of ‘The Freaks at Spurgin Road Field?’

The tone is regretful. The speaker feels guilt over something he did or didn’t do and is looking back on the moment, alongside a baseball game, and trying to understand why the mind always steps back and joins in with the crowd. 

What is the purpose of ‘The Freaks at Spurgin Road Field?’

The purpose is to explore the nature of group mentality. The speaker feels regret, seemingly for various reasons, all of which relate to his unwillingness to speak his mind and desire to fit in with other people.

What kind of poem is ‘The Freaks at Spurgin Road Field?’

The Freaks at Spurgin Road Field’ is an unrhymed villanelle. It follows the rules related to refrains, stanzas, and repetition but does use the same rhyme scheme

What is the refrain in ‘The Freaks at Spurgin Road Field?’

This poem was first published in Making Certain It Goes On: The Collected Poems of Richard Hugo in 1984. But, it details events from 1946. 

Similar Poetry 

Readers who enjoyed this piece should also consider reading some related poetry. For example: 

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Emma Baldwin Poetry Expert
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.

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