33 pages 1 hour read

Ted Kooser

Abandoned Farmhouse

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 1980

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Symbols & Motifs


Earth appears in several forms in “Abandoned Farmhouse.” First, it is the earth of the farm. The fields “cluttered with boulders” (Line 8) and “Stones in the fields” (Line 18) tell us the man “was not a farmer” (Line 19). In his hands, the earth remains a hard, rocky place yielding only a “weed-choked yard” (Line 18). There’s no harmony between man and farm, here. Instead, earth becomes more closely identified as a symbol of infertility, futility, and separation.

The other examples of earth in the poem further the connection between earth and futility. The upstairs floor is “dusty with sun” (Line 6). Those fine, dry particles revealed in the light are signs of neglect. There is no one there to clean or care. The last connection is a “sandbox made from a tractor tire” (Line 12). The pulverized rock is there to enrich a childhood—the sandbox is a sweet, homelike detail that highlights the child’s absence. Taken together, farm, field, stone, dust, and sand all build a combined symbol of loss.


The jars of plum preserves and the canned tomatoes (Lines 13-14) help introduce the woman and the house’s deprivations. Those jars say, “Money was scarce” (Line 13). The family had to use whatever they could to survive.