Analysis of ‘The Flower-Fed Buffaloes’

Explore the ways in which Vachel Lindsay in ‘The Flower-Fed Buffaloes’ expresses change so effectively

Vachel Lindsay uses the key symbol of the buffalo to represent a time that has passed in North America through his poem The Flower-Fed Buffaloes. The idea of the extinct buffalo herds is linked to the egression of nature and the disappearance of the Native American tribes as a result of the colonisation that has occurred throughout America over the nineteenth century. These thoughts are portrayed with a number of effective language techniques to express the change that has occurred so effectively.

The first five lines set the reminiscent tone of the poem as Lindsay looks back on and conveys the enormous freedom that the buffaloes once had. The opening line and of course the title of the poem illustrate the harmony that the buffaloes have with nature by the term “flower-fed”, the alliteration of which also carries positive connotations. After establishing the link between these two ideas, the natural imagery used throughout the first five lines is associated with the buffaloes and thus the “the days of long ago.” Words such as “spring” and “blooming” give the impressions of new life and tie in with the use of the word “flowers.” In this way, Lindsay aligns these past days with the thought of rejuvenation and hence begins to cast them in a positive light. The poet continues to do this through the words “ranged”, “prairie” and “tossing”, all of which carry a sense of freedom to move. The word “ranged”, in the past tense, also helps to reinforce the reminiscent tone that is being set and suggests that whilst in the past the buffaloes have been spread all over a vast region, this is no longer the case. The current state of this environment is introduced as a place where “locomotives sing,” a rather sarcastic concept in order to emphasise the harsh sounds that these machines really make. Furthermore, the personification in this phrase contrasts these cacophonous locomotives to the living, pleasant, nature-aligned buffalo and thus makes clear to the reader that the change that has occurred is a detrimental one. Reinforcing this is the description of the flowers that now “lie low”, a phrase that suggests both seclusion and a lack of energy, juxtaposed to the previous freedom and liveliness in the environment. By presenting the past in a highly positive light and then contrasting this to the modern atmosphere as it is gradually introduced throughout these five lines, the poet clearly expresses the terrible change that occurs as both the importance and beauty of nature deplete.

The current milieu is explored in more depth in the next three lines, firstly as the previously pleasant “perfumed grass” is replaced by “wheat”. The involvement of the sense of smell helps to further involve the reader and create a more effective understanding of the change that has occurred. The scented and refreshing grass has become the odorless and purely economical item of wheat. The phrase “swept away” helps to illustrate how inexorable and decisive this transformation has been, as does the repetition in the next line as “wheels and wheels and wheels spin by.” Lindsay does, however, present some hope in the following line as the idea of the rejuvenation that occurs “in the spring” is again mentioned. The phrase “still is sweet” leads the reader to believe that nature will endure these hardships induced by man and that this change may not be as definitive as it seems. The poet thus makes absolutely clear the fact that this vicissitude is unfavourable, but does leave some promise for change back to the way life was.

Despite this prospect, the poet reminds the reader that the buffalo herds are gone as the last seven lines end the poem rather depressingly. The word “but” instigates this change of mood and Lindsay goes on to stress that the buffalo have “left us.” The euphemism here helps to make the buffalo seem more human and allows the reader to further sympathise with these living beings. The energetic descriptions of these creatures over the next couple of lines also help to evoke this sympathy. The verbs “gore”, “bellow” and “trundle” are all highly energetic and lively, but furthermore highlight specific elements of the buffalo. “Bellow” is almost a cry of pain, presumably during the decline of the buffalo, whilst the onomatopoeia in “trundle” links the animals to trains, and thus creates yet another contrast between nature and the civilised world. During these two lines the phrase “no more” is repeated three times to make the disappearance of the buffalo absolutely explicit and noteworthy. Moreover, this repetition does not fit in with the rhythm and rhyme scheme established throughout the rest of the poem and reinforces the sudden and depressing departure of the buffalo herds. Following these lines the link created with the “Blackfeet” and “Pawnees,” two extremely proud Native American tribes that seemed to dissipate as the buffaloes did, again helps to humanise the buffalo and also provides another effect that the colonisation in the United States has had. The repetition of the phrase “lying low” three times over the last three lines has a very sinister tone to conclude the poem with a warning that if this urbanisation does not end, then more elements of nature will become subject to the fate of the buffaloes.

Not only does Vachel Lindsay effectively use symbols and language to express the effect that man has had on nature in The Flower-Fed Buffaloes, he also makes clear that this change has been for the worst. In doing so, Lindsay reminds people of the disappearance of a number of elements of nature in the past and reminds the reader that there is an opportunity for this change to end, lest the state of the world gets even worse.


38 thoughts on “Analysis of ‘The Flower-Fed Buffaloes’

  1. Excellent Analysis, my friend. You have given a new dimension to the poetry. On an apparent level,it is a poem about change. But beneath the skin lies a whole new perspective-that of urbanisation , that of population growth, that of ruthlessness. It establishes Vachel Lindsay as a poet close to the nature and also close to nature’s own creation-animals or buffaloes, to be specific. Keep posting your thoughtful comments on pieces of literature.

  2. wow this poem analysis (and the rest of the analyses on this site) really helped me alot! thanks so much coreachick!
    ps im just wondering what grade an essay like this would get?

    1. Sorry about that. But you do realise that the info contain on this site is to HELP you – if you merely copied it, you are very lucky to have got a B. In addition to that, the info here was written by my Grade Nine class last year and it was the first time they had ever written about poetry.

  3. very good but i found the repition of lying low at the end to mean that the buffaloes and the tribes were just hiding and there is always the faintest glimmer of hope that they may well one day return and maybe drive civilisation out.
    Also, ‘perfumed grass swept away by the wheat’ could mean that the original flora (the flowers) have been destroyed to make room for the planting of wheat for agriculture. this symbolises the native american tribes being driven out by civilisation

  4. There were a lot of useful things in this analysis, was very useful for me. I have my IGCSE literature exam on the 14th =/ BUT this was different from a lot of irrelevant, repeated commentaries on the internet. Thanks!

    1. I agree. I find this website really useful too, the analysis are detailed and rather original, which is really helpful. By the way, I’m having mine next Mon too, so good luck to both of us 😀

  5. Itz nyc 2 undrstnd da poem from others point of view.. I pray a questn frm dz poem cmz 4 2mrwz xmz…gdluk 2 all thz who r sitting 4 it

  6. in my opinion, when it says “spring that still is sweet ” it is indicating that the change was not brought on by climate change more so it was humans fault and the climate is not the one to blame as normally iis the case

  7. Vachel Lindsay was a man who wandered about aimlessly selling his poems just so he could get money for food.He was a man who observed nature.’The Flower-Fed Buffaloes’ is a tone of Sadness,grief and sorrow toward loss.It is a combination of history and imagery.It conveys atheme of loss and daeth.It targets the change and loss of the Flower-fed buffaloes who were what the Native Americans centred their spiritual beliefs and lives on.
    Lindsay’s poem powerfully laments thethe loss of the original world of the prairies.It does this through the use of the flashbacks which are seen when he repeats, “Ranged locomotives sing”.It is obvious that locomotives do nt sing and therfore Lindsay creates a picture wher the prairies have been cleared and the Buffaloes have been moved to make space for the construction of rail roads.

    ‘And the prairie flowers lie low…is swept away by the wheat’, powerfully laments the loss by expressing that the flower fed Buffaloes lived on these prairie flowers and by the sweeping away of these prairie flowers the buffaloes have nothing to feed on and therfore die of starvation.’The tossing,bloomin,perfumed grass is swept away by the wheat,’ powerfully lament the loss by revealing the chane in time as the flowers where removed and replaced by wheat.
    ‘Wheels and wheels and wheels spin by’ powerfully laments the loss by being a constant reminder of the prairies and buffaloes that were once found in that area.’In the spring that still is sweet’,reveals Lindsay’s pain towards the loss as he tries to ignore the changes and developments and remind himself of the long ago spring.

    ‘Let us, long ago,’ powerfully laments the loss as it shows the death of the buffaloes.The loss is also increased as the poet remembers how the buffaloes were killed through shooting.’They go no more,…the hills no more’expresses how the Flower fed buffaloes will be seen or heard no more.
    ‘With the Blackfeet,lying low,…lying low,’ powerfully laments the loss of the original world by revealing the death of the Native American tribes that relied on the buffaloes.The lament is also made powerful at the reminiscence of the war that caused their death.
    The punctuation also powerfully laments the loss as it shows that the poem was well thought out and this the depth of the pain felt by the poet.The long sentences also powerfully lament the loss as the poet tries to make his readers fell what he is feeling.

    In conclusion ,Lindsay’s poem powerfully laments the loss of the original world of the prairies by expressing himself and his personal views.The flower fed Buffaloes are now extinct due to the development of civilization.Lives were lost in the fight to secure the lives of the Flower-Fed Buffaloes.

    PS; I really need to knw wat u guys thnk about ths poem.I’m about to rite my IGCSE and i need to knw wher i stand.I’m frm Zimbabwe.

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