By James K. Baxter You will see him light a cigarette At the hall door careless, leaning his back Against the wall, or telling some new joke To a friend, or looking out into the secret night. But always his eyes turn To the dance floor and the girls drifting like flowers Before the music that tears Slowly in his mind an old wound open. His red sunburnt face and hairy hands Were not made for dancing or love-making But rather the earth wave breaking To the plough, and crops slow-growing as his mind. He has no girl to run her fingers through His sandy hair, and giggle at his side When Sunday couples walk. Instead He has his awkward hopes, his envious dreams to yarn to. But ah in harvest watch him Forking stooks, effortless and strong – Or listening like a lover to the song Clear, without fault, of a new tractor engine.
“yarn” - to spin a thread -to talk -to make up a story “stooks” -bundle of hay/straw
Suggests that he is suited to working on a farm. “hand” is repeated in the third stanza. -Hands are commonly associated with manual labour, which is what you do on the farm.
Baxter was born in Dunedin to Archibald Baxter and Millicent Brown and grew up near Brighton. His father had been a conscientious objector during the First World War. On his first day of school, Baxter burned his hand on a stove and later used this incident to represent the failure of institutional education. Baxter failed to complete his course work at the University of Otago and was forced to take a range of odd jobs, most notably a cleaner at Chelsea Sugar Refinery, which inspired the poem "Ballad of the Stonegut Sugar Works". While at the University of Otago Baxter began drinking heavily. By 1954 he had joined Alcoholics Anonymous. The first half of the 1960s saw Baxter struggling to make ends meet on his postman's wage, having refused to take work as a schoolmaster.
You will see him light a cigarette At the hall door careless, leaning his back Against the wall, or telling some new joke To a friend, or looking out into the secret night. “careless” and “leaning” -Suggests that he has a laid back attitude to life and doesn’t think too much. “telling some new joke to a friend” -Shows that the farmhand does have friends but always has to act cool and try to impress them to keep them as his friends. “at the hall door” - the Farmhand always hangs out by the door because he does not feel welcome in the midst of the dance, with everyone else. -also it gives the impression he is a bit of an outcast who is not welcome there. “looking out”- This gives the impression that he longs to be free and wants too leave the dance. “Night” and “light” - these two words rhyme but do not fit into the usual rhyming structure whereby the rhyming words are placed at the end of two lines. Here one word is in the middle of a line and the other is over three lines away. This shows that he does not fit in at the dance. - “wall” and “hall” are also examples of this point.
But always his eyes turn To the dance floor and the girls drifting like flowers Before the music that tears Slowly in his mind an old wound open. “But always his eyes turn” - the use of “always” shows that the farmhand longs to be on the dance floor with the girls. “flowers” - are often associated with fragility and farmers are often associated with being big and rough, this shows that the farm hand won’t mix well with the girls who are compared to flowers. “Before...old wound open.” - these lines could be referring to a past experience which has emotionally scarred the Farmhand, this experience could be one of the contributing factors that prevent him from dancing with the girls. The experience probably happened at a similar dance/party to this and the music brings back the memory. “tears” - this is a pun -it could refer to actual tears from his eyes -or the wound could have been physical
His red sunburnt face and hairy hands Were not made for dancing or love-making But rather the earth wave breaking To the plough, and crops slow-growing as his mind. “His… hands”- this line gives the first physical description of the Farmhand, making him out to be someone who has been working on the farm for sometime. -“hairy hands” and “sunburnt face” are not aesthetically pleasing or what a teenager wants. “Were not made for dancing or love making” - because he is not the most aesthetically pleasing person, people are less inclined to want to dance with him or be his girlfriend. “slow-growing as his mind” - suggests that the farmhand is not an academic, as his mind is compared to the speed that the crops grow, thus being suited to manual labour.
“sandy hair” - sand is something found at the beach, which is a natural place. The poet describes his hair in this way in a stanza that deals with the dance to illustrate how he fits in in nature, but not at the dance. He has no girl to run her fingers through His sandy hair, and giggle at his side When Sunday couples walk. Instead He has his awkward hopes, his envious dreams to yarn to. “Instead” - informs the reader that what he has just described, does not apply to the farm hand and that what he is about to describe about the farm hand is actually contrary to the previous description. “awkward hopes” and “envious dreams” -“awkward” and “envious” suggest that the farm hand feels like he is not supposed to think about girls and is embarrassed about his “hopes” and “dreams”. -but in stanza two he qualifies his thoughts about the girls by comparing them to flowers, thus making his thoughts about the farm. -Linking these two points together, lead to the idea that he thinks he is not allowed think about anything but the farm.
“But ah” – this creates the effect of a pause and shows that something is has changed, in this case it is that the setting has changed. – also it signals that this stanza will be a contrast to the previous stanza. But ah in harvest watch him Forking stooks, effortless and strong – Or listening like a lover to the song Clear, without fault, of a new tractor engine. “effortless” and “strong” –can be compared to “awkward” and “envious”. Because “effortless” and “strong” are positively connotated and are used to describe him during harvest and “awkward” and “envious” are negatively connotated and used to describe him at the dance, it shows that he is best fit to work on the farm. “like” – implies that he is not actually a lover. “Or listening like a lover to the song” – a simile describing how the things he loves are on the farm, like the sound of “a new tractor engine” “without fault,” - when he is on the farm he is without fault and every thing he does and how he does it seems natural. “song” and “music” -song links to music in the second stanza because they are both sounds. -the music brings back bad memories, where as he listens to the sound of the tractor engine like a lover, proving that he is most suited to the farm.
Baxter’s failures in education could imply that the quote “slow-growing as his mind” is referring to himself. On his first day of school, Baxter burned his hand on a stove and later used this incident to represent the failure of institutional education. Baxter failed to complete his course work at the University of Otago. Baxter worked on a farm for two years. Baxter’s father was a farmer. His teenage years had a large impact on his life due to the turmoil and difficulty in his life, from being a strong activist. The farmhand is depicted as struggling through his teenage years. The Farmhand works on a farm.
What message is portrayed in the “Farmhand”? Comment on the relationship between the behaviour of the Farmhand and his environment.
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