Content + “a brief Profile”
Vachel Lindsay’s “Flower Fed Buffaloes” is a carefully crafted lament of the destruction of the prairies, of what was once beauty, conveyed through the metaphor of the buffalo, the bison species native to the Great Plains. The bison were the very lifeblood of the prairie, and all of the Plains Indians, the Native American tribes (Lindsay specifically references the Pawnee and Blackfoot) depended on the buffalo for food, shelter, clothing, and equipment. It is entirely reflective, written in first person plural, past tense. In compliance with its reflective nature, the speakers are hinted at, but the reader/listener is never directly acknowledged. The time period Lindsay speaks of is when white settlers where venturing into new frontiers, bringing with them their own culture, religion, but most importantly technology. To the Native Americans, the buffalo held a steeped position in their culture, almost spiritual, as it shaped the basis of their way of life. To the Anglo-European settlers pressing westward, however, the buffalo were just brute beasts, to be killed for sport, slaughtered and piled aboard locomotives in the millions. (The bison species was massacred to near extinction at a very early point in Lindsay’s lifetime) This, the disappearance of the buffalo, forms the premise for the piece, sculpted as a single, flowing stanza, evenly delivered in thirteen lines. The wavering, ebb and flow delivery produces both a rolling rhythm, alongside a rising and faltering enunciation, evoking the lingering melodies of Native American chants and songs. This is intentionally done on Lindsay’s part, as he intended for his pieces to be sung, not merely spoken. Vachel Lindsay would later go on to be known as the “father of modern singing poetry” Aim
The poet describes the vanishing buffalo, but ingeniously uses the first person plural format, (us) beckoning the reader, and is evocative of empathetic emotion. By nature, the piece is a melancholy, reflective, lament, as well as a narration by Scott. Through his proxy, first person usage, Lindsay seamlessly interweaves his voice with those of the Native American tribes, to share their last words of wisdom, the final dirge of their people. This is all conveyed to the reader, not as a flood of directly stated feelings, but in subtle, enduring nuances that they must decipher for themself. Theme
The emotions the poet is imparting upon the reader are the torrent of memories; of days long gone, a flashback to sweeter springs, untainted, where the buffalo roamed. In the poem, a major theme is the bittersweet duality of remembrance; the positive notes of nature, tinged with the harsh realization that those days have passed, and the robotic march of “civilization” has treaded its way in. In addition, though the bison may no longer graze on waves of grain and spring flowers, nature has been wronged regardless, and is effectively personified in the recollection. Syntax
Vachel Lindsay uses each and all elements possible to build on the sensation of a work inherently musical by nature, and the syntax isn’t an exception. The combination of a varied usage of sentence structures, verbs which supplement and enhance the sound, and a layering of punctuation all serve to mould the lines into a harmonious, melodic series of intonations. This starts with the first two lines, “The flower-fed buffaloes of the spring in the days of long ago,” (embodying this very idea), exhibiting both the wavering rise and fall, as well as a pause. (The comma) However, these two lines comprise only the first part of a complex, multi-stage utterance, continuing into “Ranged where the locomotives sing and the prairie flowers lie low:” (lines 3 & 4) each verb, here, [ranged and sing, then lie,] if looked at out of context, seems unseemly. In text, on the other hand, they flow with the passive statement, smoothly conjoining different...