Flower- Fed Buffaloes

Explore how The Flower-Fed Buffaloes (by Vachel Lindsay) powerfully conveys feelings about human destruction of the natural world.

Humans are constantly ravaging what we hold dearest to us; and Nature is the worst victim.

Vachel Lindsay poignantly conveys her regret and melancholy over the human destruction of the natural world through depicting the waning of the buffaloes of the North American prairies. Her varied use of literary devices and the structure of her poem clearly express her emotions over the loss of Nature.

Through the use of alliteration of the ‘flower-fed’ buffaloes, Lindsay conveys the gentle Nature of these creatures and hence invokes pity and sadness in us for their demise. The natural, flowing, peaceful sound of ‘f’ puts us at ease, as if the buffaloes are gentle and peaceful animals. The connotations of ‘flower-fed’ (for there is a common saying of ‘you are what you eat’) are positive; they portray the buffaloes in a good light. Readers sense the peaceful image of buffaloes peacefully grazing in the prairies, which makes us feel as if it is our duty, our obligation to protect them. The positive imagery associated with the buffaloes conveys how much Lindsay wants to conserve Nature, and makes us sympathize with her cause- it makes us feel guilty and sorrowful for the waning of the buffaloes and the destruction of these peaceful, gentle facets of Nature.

Lindsay also uses personification when illustrating her regret and sadness over the human destruction of the natural world. She writes: ‘ranged where the locomotives sing’, personifying the man-made locomotives, which at first glance may appear to be depicting it in a positive, joyful light. However, Lindsay uses irony and a sense of sarcasm to bring across her message; locomotives aren’t pleasant sounding. In fact, the industrialization and construction of the railroads in 1851 hastened the depletion of buffaloes as people began to shoot at them from the trains. The vast discrepancy between the literal meaning of this and the ironical message of the words emphasizes the fact that there is something amiss, something wrong, making reader feel uneasy. The personification of the locomotives makes it appear a live and joyful, even whilst bringing about the demise of the buffaloes and ruining Nature. Through this, Lindsay conveys a dark aspect of human Nature- we take what we want without care of concern for Nature- we are wallowing in our selfishness. She conveys her sadness and even angst for the loss of Nature.

Structure plays an important part of Lindsay’s poem- although there appears to be no break in stanzas in her poem, it’s roughly divided into two- the first four lines depicting the joy and positive aspects of Nature, and the rest portraying Nature as a victim of industrialization. In the first four lines, the rhyme scheme is ordered (ABAB) and flowing with rhyming couplets, indicating the beautiful perfection of the olden days. It is mesmerizing; it calms us and shows us the tranquility and peace of the olden days. The subsequent lines, however, have a sporadic, abnormal rhyme scheme, depicting the disruption of peace in the wild prairies and Lindsay’s consequent distress and anger at it.

Also, the use of punctuation is critical to conveying Lindsay’s message- her use of an uncommon grammatical conjunction ‘:-‘ makes it feel as if there is something wrong. We feel indignant, as if it shouldn’t be happening, like the situation with the buffaloes. It creates a profound pause, making us think about what we’ve done as a human race; the havoc and destruction we have wreaked on Nature. Also, both types of punctuation (a colon and an hyphen) are used to begin a new phrase, as like a new phase in life- and this shows the transition between the good old days and the introduction of civilization to the Americas resulting in the destruction of wildlife. Lindsay’s brilliant use of punctuation aptly conveys her anger and conflict with the human destruction of the natural world.

The human destruction of nature is clearly

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