Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry: Explained, WOODCHUCKS, by MAXINE W. KUMIN

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Classic and Contemporary Poetry: Explained

WOODCHUCKS, by             Poet Analysis     Poet's Biography

"Woodchucks" is a poem by Maxine W. Kumin that was first published in her collection "Up Country: Poems of New England" in 1972.


The poem is about the speaker's experience of trying to eradicate a group of woodchucks from their garden. The speaker describes the woodchucks as destructive pests that are causing damage to their property, and expresses a desire to eliminate them. However, as the poem progresses, the speaker becomes increasingly violent and vengeful in their language, imagining the ways in which they could kill the woodchucks. The poem ends with the speaker reflecting on the darker aspects of human nature and the potential for violence that lies within all of us.

Poetic Elements:

  • Form: The poem is written in free verse, with no set rhyme scheme or meter. The poem consists of six stanzas of varying lengths.
  • Imagery: The poem contains vivid imagery that evokes the world of the garden and the woodchucks, as well as figurative language such as the description of the speaker as a "nihilist."
  • Tone: The tone of the poem shifts from one of annoyance and frustration to one of violent revenge and ultimately to one of introspection and self-awareness.
  • Symbolism: The woodchucks serve as a symbol for the darker impulses of human nature, while the garden represents the domesticated and civilized world that seeks to contain those impulses.


"Woodchucks" is a powerful and thought-provoking poem that explores themes of violence, human nature, and the struggle between civilization and the natural world. The poem's use of vivid imagery and figurative language creates a sense of urgency and emotional intensity, while its underlying themes underscore the poem's deeper significance.

Poem Snippet:

"Gassing the woodchucks didn't turn out right.

The knockout bomb from the Feed and Grain Exchange

was featured as merciful, quick at the bone

and the case we had against them was airtight,"

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