Online Text with Audio from

Sherwood undergrad prompts for a close-reading
FIARIAL - definitions
FIARIAL - allusions
FIARL - terms

Voyant - Corpus Visualization of the Poem

Sestina ending words: spinach, thunder, scratched, apartment, pleasant, country

FORMAL Words - Ashbery Remix

POPEYE Layer - Ashbery Remix

Comments on the title: disjunction between title and content; non-sequitor. Evokes a classic landscape.

FIARIAL Stanza 1
The first of the undecoded messages read: "Popeye sits in thunder,

Unthought of. From that shoebox of an apartment,

From livid curtain's hue, a tangram emerges: a country."

Meanwhile the Sea Hag was relaxing on a green couch: "How pleasant

To spend one's vacation en la casa de Popeye," she scratched

Her cleft chin's solitary hair. She remembered spinach

Poem begins with a message, the emergence of a "tangram" which is equated with the country.
Lines 4-6, begins a new sentence, and the "scene" shifts and introduces the Sea Hag, concluding with the evocation of Popeye's "spinach"

Speaker: semi-consistent speaker. Two passages are ostensibly quoted. Possibly they are to be taken as distinct voices.

Language: incongruous language shifts: from colloquial "la casa de Popeye" to the formal "from livid curtain's hue"; personification: curtain is "livid": colorful with anger.

Line notes:
1. "undecoded messages" : evokes a plot element in a mystery cartoon, but also raises meta-poetic issues about the poem.
2. abrupt sentence ending: "Unthought of."
3. Curious phrase, "From livid curtain's hue, a tangram emerges" -- Is this a description of a visual effect from the cartoon?
4. New sentence, begins with purportedly normal shifter "Meanwhile"; as if it is a conventional narrative.
5. Is Popeye in the same house as the Sea Hag?

FIARIAL Stanza 2

And was going to ask Wimpy if he had bought any spinach.

"M'love," he intercepted, "the plains are decked out in thunder

Today, and it shall be as you wish." He scratched

The part of his head under his hat. The apartment

Seemed to grow smaller. "But what if no pleasant

Inspiration plunge us now to the stars? For this is my country."

Drawing on the language pattern utilized here, it seems that there is an obscure rupture established between the poetic diction and allusions, between the elusive structure of this stanza and its open manifestations. What we expect, as readers, from the rhetoric does not match the content. In other words, it sounds that the poet here embraces a postmodern pastiche.

First Line:
  • Expecting a coherent narrative.
  • Allusions:
  • o Wimpy: Supposedly, as represented in the cartoons, he stands for the ever-hungry man dressed as a businessman. We can draw on a Marxist reading, for instance. Wimpy might represent the superstructure of society. The more we attempt to instantiate Ashbery’s form and content, the more we fall into disjunction and anarchy as well. Strictly speaking, we struggle to contextualize the allusion somehow, but it doesn't fit into the overall meaning of the following lines. As such, the whole stanza resists a dominant meaning. The very use of ‘spinach’ ridicules the expected allusion to Popeye’s source of “powerful enlightenment” and the superman-like position that has the upper hand.
  • o The spinach: inspiration, power, and energy.
Second Line:
  • Whom is Wimpy addressing? Who is "she"?
  • Intercepted implies obstruction, interruption of communication; it suggests indeterminacy.
  • Decked out in thunder: Thunder is associated here with a loud utterance made to suggest ambivalence and irony as well. Why ‘decked out’? And why ‘in thunder’?
Third Line:
  • Scratched, as a redundant word, ties interestingly to other key words such as “seemed” and “ what if”. These key words imply obscurity and uncertainty.
Fourth Line:
  • One of Wimpy's reoccurring movements is him scratching his head. This could signify him thinking deeply or him not knowing what to do (feeling helpless). With that in mind, Wimpy resonates impotence and vagueness.

Fifth Line:
  • Seemed: uncertainty (notice the past tense).
  • Grows smaller: The apartment's size according to Wimpy "seemed" to grow, yet the growth is limited to the space. This could allude to capitalism and how lands are getting smaller and smaller by the growth and expansion of capital powers. Again, such allusion is prone to multiple connotations and representations.
Sixth Line:
Inspiration and stars: related to the allusion of spinach.
My country: politics? Whose country? Who is speaking? The bewildering interrogation posed by Ahsbery thwarts our expectations about the central allusion of Popeye the sailor as a whole when he says "
"But what if no pleasant

Inspiration plunge us now to the stars? For this is my country." What is striking about such interrogation is the fact that it lends itself to a witty satire implied here. Ashbery, seemingly, satirizes the romanticized idealism of capitalism and the American dream that happened to be commodified through sentimental hyperbolic zeal toward inspiration and progress, exactly like the one brought about by Popey's spinach and his heroic power. We conclude, then, that such capitalist enlightenment is ridiculed and questioned by Ashbery through alluding to Popeye's cartoonist persona.


FIARIAL Stanza 3

Suddenly they remembered how it was cheaper in the country.

Wimpy was thoughtfully cutting open a number 2 can of spinach

When the door opened and Swee'pea crept in. "How pleasant!"

But Swee'pea looked morose. A note was pinned to his bib. "Thunder

And tears are unavailing," it read. "Henceforth shall Popeye's apartment

Be but remembered space, toxic or salubrious, whole or scratched."

Summary: This stanza focuses on the Popeye characters being thoughtful and wistful. It is about missing something or having a feeling of loss.

Line 1: "cheaper" monetary, perhaps they miss the country because now they are financially strained. Appears to set up a binary of the city/country. The mention of "apartment" I line 5 reinforces this binary as apartments are located in the city.

Line 2: "thoughtfully" sentimental about the past when in the country. Also a word which evokes an emotional feeling. The following word cut stands in contrast to the thoughtfulness. Again this poem is loaded with the conflicted word choice. The "cutting open" represents a wound in Wimpy's soul.

Line 3: "how pleasant!" ambiguous on who actually makes this statement. who is the agent, grammatically speaking? This idea of pleasant also sets up a binary when placed next to the word "thunder."

Line 4: Also Swee'pea looking morose is significant because of the conflict with the term pleasant. But the poem includes soft expressions with harsh expressions. Stylistically, this conflict is symbolizes the main conflict happening between the characters themselves.

Line5: The tears here are important and continue the theme of emotional loss. But again, it is a bittersweet loss. Somehow there are positives that go with the loss and it could be wrapped up in a return to the country. The not being read is written in a more formal form of language and is itself a contradiction to the cartoon characters. Ashbury seems to attempt a meta-narrative here by including a poem within a poem.

Line 6: The stanza ends with another set of conflicts or opposites in language with toxic/salubrious and whole/scratched. This is consistent with the style of the rest of poems. Clearly we have a conflicted group of characters dealing with a loss, probably that of the country setting. But also dealing with the loss of the city setting as well. In a sense, the characters are spaceless. But there is a slight sense of optimism as well.

FIARIAL Stanza 4

Olive came hurtling through the window; its geraniums scratched

Her long thigh. "I have news!" she gasped. "Popeye, forced as you know to flee the country

One musty gusty evening, by the schemes of his wizened,

duplicate father, jealous of the apartment

And all that it contains, myself and spinach
In particular, heaves bolts of loving thunder

At his own astonished becoming, rupturing the pleasant


Two new characters are introduced into the poem: Olive enters the scene through the window and Popeye's duplicate father through Olive's dialogue. Olive's dialogue also introduces a new tension into the poem. A continuation of the "odd" dialogue, and there is a focus on the language used. There is a prose quality in the stanza, with a third person point of view in the narration and Olive's dialogue.There are seven lines in this stanza instead of the "normal" six.

Spinach: if we think about it in reference to Popeye it is a source of nourishment and strength. (?)

1. First mention of Olive. Word "hurtling" implies urgency?
2. Playing with syntax. A "you" is being addressed for the first time in the poem. Who is this "you?" Is it the reader? Another character in the poem?
3. Introduced to the new end word "wizened." Why does he do this? Why this word? An internal rhyme musty gusty introduces tension into the stanza before the reader learns of the "jealous" father.
4. Introduction of a new character, Popeye's "duplicate" father, through Olive's dialogue. Why duplicate father? A copy or double of the father?
5. Ashbury begins to add tension to an already tense moment.
6. "Heaves bolts of loving thunder" odd line, allusion to Zeus? Should it be bolts of lightening? Thunder is the aftermath of lightening. Something has already happened, the thunder is an echo of sorts.
7. An incomplete thought that leads to the next stanza. Olive is offering a reflection of the father.Confusion of the pronoun his? Who does the "his" refer to? Is it the father or Popeye?

FIARIAL Stanza 5

Arpeggio of our years. No more shall pleasant

Rays of the sun refresh your sense of growing old, nor the scratched

Tree-trunks and mossy foliage, only immaculate darkness and thunder."

She grabbed Swee'pea. "I'm taking the brat to the country."

"But you can't do that--he hasn't even finished his spinach,"

Urged the Sea Hag, looking fearfully around at the apartment.

FIARIAL Stanza 6
But Olive was already out of earshot. Now the apartment

Succumbed to a strange new hush. "Actually it's quite pleasant

Here," thought the Sea Hag. "If this is all we need fear from spinach

Then I don't mind so much. Perhaps we could invite Alice the Goon over"--she scratched

One dug pensively--"but Wimpy is such a country

Bumpkin, always burping like that." Minute at first, the thunder

FIARIAL Stanza 7

Soon filled the apartment. It was domestic thunder,

The color of spinach. Popeye chuckled and scratched

His balls: it sure was pleasant to spend a day in the country.

Summary: Poem comes to a kind of conclusion, with Popeye getting the final word, and ending it with a kind of Looney-Tunes happy resolution.

1. What is "domestic thunder"?
2. Does domestic thunder mean that there is an upcoming battle within the household?