Analysis of Food Poems: 'Cutting Greens' and 'Farm Country'

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It is through poetry that the meaning and perception of daily work experience, ideas and language are presented in a manner that depicts the world as well-ordered and fixed. Poets by capitalizing on creativity represent the memorable phenomena touching on things and people thus making it a philosophical concept as opposed to being historical in that it concentrated on immediate human experience. The founding element of poetry is the ability to transition a readers understanding and perception of contexts from not only verbal but also into imaginative thinking. Poetry besides passing given information is meant to be interesting to the reader. Assumptions in poetry include the fact that there is always a hidden message that is to be discovered by deciphering every word that is considered a symbol which does not mean what it says. This essay will analyze ‘Cutting Greens’ by Lucile Clifton and ‘Farm Country’ by Mary Oliver to establish the implicit poetical insights established by the two food poems.

‘Cutting Greens’ by Lucile Clifton

From a literal perspective, Lucile Clifton articulates the normal processes of cutting vegetables and in her experience; she is holding a mixture of collards and kale cutting them against a board. However, while the physical setting of the poem is a normal kitchen, it is Lucile Clifton’s thoughts, feelings and imaginations as she is cutting the greens that invoke the reader’s emotions and curiosity. As it is an element of poetry, a reader would be prompted the meaning of the words chosen by Lucile Clifton in the poem. What aspect of life is Lucile Clifton referring as the greens? How does ‘kinship’ come into play in a vegetable cutting process? How about the colors mentioned? It is evident that Lucile Clifton undergoes a transition from a normal household chore into an emotional experience that draws intrinsic feelings arousing a connection between the writer and the surrounding environment.

‘Farm Country’ by Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver in the poem ‘Farm Country’ offsets the reading of the poetic work with the picture of a farmer who is ready to go about daily farming chores. It is typical for people living in upcountry or individuals with gardens to possess the farm tools and gears. However, Mary Oliver elicits a twist in her narration as a reader strives to relate heavy aprons and sharpened knives. Also, Mary Oliver talks of chicken soup served in bowls of blue colors drawn in willow patterns. There is need to decipher the words chosen by Mary Oliver as a way of understanding the message of the poem. What if Mary Oliver is not talking about a farm after all? Are the sharpened knives meant for slaughtering chicken from the hen house? What is Mary Oliver insinuating by the chicken soup and the willow pattern bowls?

Comparison between ‘Farm Country’ by Mary Oliver and ‘Cutting Greens’ by Lucile Clifton

Both ‘Cutting Greens’ by Lucile Clifton and ‘Farm Country’ by Mary Oliver draw the insights into the poem from things around normal human life. Food is a basic need for one to survive, however, the Lucile Clifton and Mary Oliver uses the given commodity to create a different meaning about human perception on the surrounding environment. Daily life in the upcountry is characterized by farming practices which include attending to farm animals including chicken. Also, the use of protective farming gear including boots and aprons is a routine undertaking. In the case of Lucile Clifton’s poem, a typical kitchen involves food preparation which requires cutting of vegetables. However, Mary Oliver and Lucile Clifton uses food in a daily human set up to create deeper meaning, arouse the reader's curiosity and emotions by relating food with human feelings. Mary Oliver (line 3) states that life is not chicken soup and maybe according to her is something more solid and hard unlike the liquid form of soup which is easy to take. Lucile Clifton (line 5) even though the kales and collards strain against each other, they are confined in her hand and the iron pot. Here, Clifton asserts on the fact that while people might have inherent differences, life has a way of bringing individuals together involuntarily.

Both ‘Cutting Greens’ by Lucile Clifton and ‘Farm Country’ by Mary Oliver relate the taste of food with life experiences. Lucile Clifton (line 15) talks of ‘…I taste in my natural appetite the bond of live things everywhere’ while Mary Oliver (line 3) asserts that ‘Maybe you think life is chicken soup.’ The taste of cooked greens in the imaginative world of Lucile Clifton is arousing a connection similar to the bonds witnessed in living things. While the relationship amongst human beings is not always good, live things are bonded by the fact they all have a life. Lucile Clifton views the normal link created between tasty food and the arousal of appetite with the connection between living things everywhere. Mary Oliver relates the nature and taste of soup with the difficulty of life. The sharpening of knives and wearing of the apron is an indication of a complex activity which requires manual human energy. Unlike the experience of taking soup in a bowl made of defined patterns, life is a complex process with no defined pattern requiring manual input as seen in the chewing of food as opposed to drinking chicken soup.

While ‘Cutting Greens’ by Lucile Clifton can be interpreted to depict human relations and ‘Farm House’ by Mary Oliver to translate the difficulties of life, both poems’ meanings are founded on the fact that life is influenced by the environment surrounding one as opposed to individual wishes. The kales and collards in Lucile Clifton’s hands can represent people from different cultures, races or social class but life forces them to coexist. Also, in the case of Mary Oliver, individuals would want life to be as simple as taking chicken soup in blue willow-pattern bowls (line 4). The human environment requires people to work hard as seen in the sharpening of knives and wearing aprons to do farming and straining to live with each other despite inherent differences as seen in kales and collards being cut and cooked in the same pot (line 7).

Contrasts between ‘Farm Country’ by Mary Oliver and ‘Cutting Greens’ by Lucile Clifton

The differences between ‘Farm Country’ by Mary Oliver and ‘Cutting Greens’ by Lucile Clifton is on how the two poems assign meaning to food and communicate individually. ‘Farm Country’ by Mary Oliver translates the nature of food regarding solid or liquid with the difficulty of life while ‘Cutting Greens’ by Lucile Clifton relate the taste of food and the cutting process with the bond of human beings.


Mary Oliver and Lucile Clifton can assign meanings to normal household chores and food to depict a deeper meaning of life. As it is expected in poetry, a reader will be able to enjoy and appreciate a poem by deciphering every word used by the writer and extracting a deeper meaning. The use of food is seen as diverting from historical feelings into immediate experiences by using the imaginative ability enshrined in the reader. A reader’s aim in a poem ought to be to discover a hidden meaning.

Work Cited

Young, Kevin. Hungry Ear: Poems of Food and Drink. New York: Bloomsbury, 2014

December 12, 2023

Art Literature

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