"In a Country" Analysis

Iswariya Baskar and Dheera Dammanna

Author: Larry Levis

  • Born in Fresno, California.
  • Grew up driving a tractor, picking grapes, and pruning vines of Selma, California.
  • He earned a master's degree from Syracuse University in 1970 and a Ph.D. from the University of Iowa in 1974.

Sonic Analysis

  • Simple and straightforward words reveal a sense of obvious emotions.
  • It is possible that the language is clear in order to allow any interpretation of the poem. It is almost as if the narrator only wants to concentrate on the end product he wants; what others feel of his “journey” is of little importance.


  • As sounds could be modified per person, interpretation will vary.


  • After hearing the poem, the reader might assume a sense of anticipation alongside the narrator with each slowly enunciated word. However, the simplicity of the language could confuse the reader, or in this case, listener, into debating about whether or not the words are meant to appear structurally sound as the intent behind them is rather double-edged.
  • When phrases such as “wheels passing through yellow mud” are used, the visual setting is being set in the readers mind. In the clause “waiting for clouds or smoke,” the reader can almost feel the tension, both in the physical form of smoke and the metaphorical form of nervousness.
  • As this poem is primarily observatory, senses involving taste and smell are not as ostensible as could be presumed.


  • Based on where the author is from and what his background is, one can assume that this poem was a possible reflection of his own journey. In fact, this poem could reveal what Levis felt as he grew into a budding poet and embraced education.

Tonal Analysis

My love and I are inventing a country, which we
can already see taking shape, as if wheels were
passing through yellow mud. (1.) But there is a prob-
lem:
i
f we put a river in the country, it will thaw
and (2.) begin flooding. If we put the river on the bor-
der, (3.) there will be trouble. If we forget about the
river, (4.) there will be no way out. (5.) There is already a
sky
over that country, waiting for clouds or smoke.
Birds have flown into it, too. Each evening more
trees fill with their eyes, and what they see we can
never erase.

(6.) One day it was snowing heavily, and again we were
lying in bed, watching our country: we could
make out the wide river for the first time, blue and
moving. We seemed to be getting closer; we saw
our wheel tracks leading into it and curving out
of sight behind us. It looked like the land we had
left, some smoke in the distance, (7.) but I wasn't sure.
There were birds calling. (8.) The creaking of our
wheels.
And as we entered that country, it felt as if
someone was touching our bare shoulders, lightly,
for the last time.

  1. This shift indicates an upcoming issue that poses as an obstacle.
  2. A tone of foreboding is reinforced.
  3. There is an emphasis of the finality of doom if the clause before proves true.
  4. The rhetoric of whether or not a powerless individual is good is again mentioned.
  5. A tone of anticipation is introduced in lieu of an expected pragmatic view.
  6. The author has created an uneasy atmosphere for what may happen.
  7. The narrator's confusion underscores a negative feeling.
  8. The author might be open to eccentricity lieu of an expected pragmatic view.



  • The method used to recite this poem would follow the intentions of the author. Because it is likely that the author intended this poem to be about a process that was disliked at first but eventually accepted, the poem should emphasis the specific tones referenced above as well as put genuine effort into not only what the author meant, but what the words themselves say. Essentially, as this a poem, it is important not to forget to include the music that will be heard in the words.

Artistic Analysis

  • This poem might revolve around the idea of a journey. The journeyer and his lover originally had their doubts, but the end proves his efforts useful.


  • Another art form that can be related to this theme is John Singer Sargent's In the Tyrol. This piece of art involves a waterfall that follows the same flow as Levis' poem.


  • Sargent tackles a view that illustrates what the lovers feel in a journey for the better, regardless of what events may or may not occur in order for their goals to come true.
  • The only two physical and real objects mentioned in the poem with no usage of metaphors are the wheels and the lovers themselves. When the poem and the book are both laid out in the open to be analyzed side by side, there is symbolism with the lovers representing the family and the wheels representing forward motion in a new journey.


Thematic Connection

Most of Levis’s poems had more of a personal appeal rather than universal. His poems describe his childhood and memories. Levis created a poem that included the younger Larry Levis, as well as places or eras that can now only be seen in one's imagination—and even that occurs with a struggle. However, the themes he uses surrounding change, growing up, and tolerance are ideas that he frequently uses, but primarily because his own experiences support them.

  • Other pieces of literature with a similar flow:

  1. "Purgatory" by: Maxine Cumin
  2. "The Poem as Mask" by: Muriel Rukeysser
  3. "In a Beautiful Country" by: Kevin Prufer


  • This first poem delves into drawing the line between what is optimism and what is blind hope and what it takes to uncover the truth.
  • "The Poem as Mask" is about seeing beyond the sheet of adversity.
  • The last piece, one of prose, surrounds faith and patriotism and what needs to be done help a cause.