Fruitful Crops In Every Field

Harvesting wheat by hand.

“Poetry is a sort of truancy, a dream within the dream of life, a wild flower planted among our wheat.”

— Michael Joseph Oakeshott

Portrait of a Machine

by Louis Untermeyer

What nudity as beautiful as this
Obedient monster purring at its toil;
These naked iron muscles dripping oil
And the sure-fingered rods that never miss.
This long and shining flank of metal is
Magic that greasy labour cannot spoil;
While this vast engine that could rend the soil
Conceals its fury with a gentle hiss.
It does not vent its loathing, it does not turn
Upon its makers with destroying hate.
It bears a deeper malice; lives to earn
It’s masters bread and laughs to see this great
Lord of the earth, who rules but cannot learn,
Become the slave of what his slaves create.


One hundred years ago it took 40 hours of labor from planting to harvest with the best horse drawn equipment at the time to raise 100 bushels of corn.   Today it takes around 2 hours.  We have 20X increased productivity and with it 20X increased the cost of production and reduced 20X the workforce needed to produce it.  The reason we’ll never go back is no one would want to work that hard ever again for so little wages.  We have grown comfortable in the marvels that the internal combustion engine and fossil fuels have created and there is no bridge back to a pastoral rural economy.  But as these poems both remind us, there is a cost to our efficiency that goes beyond finances.   There is a human cost in our souls being tethered to the very machines that have transformed lives. 

 


Agricultural Implements and Machinery

by James Mcyintre (1828- 1906)

Poor laborers, they did sad bewail,
When the machine displaced the flail ;
There’s little work, now, with the hoes,
Since cultivators weed the rows.

Labor it became more fickle
When the scythe took place of sickle ;
Labor still it did sink lower
By introduction of mower ;

And the work was done much cheaper
When they added on the reaper.
Another machine to it they join,
Mower, reaper, binder, they combine.

Machines now load and stow away
Both the barley and the hay,
And the farmers do get richer
With the loader and the pitcher.

There’s little work now for the hoes,
Since cultivators weed the rows ;
They sow and rake by the machine-
Hand labor’s ‘mong the things have been.

Armed with scythes, the old war chariot
Cut down men in the fierce war riot ;
Round farmer’s chariot falls the slain,
But ’tis the sheaves of golden grain.

This harvest, now, of eighty-four,
Will great wealth on farmers pour,
For there is abundant yield
Of fruitful crops in every field.

Kind Air Breathed Kindness Everywhere

Louis Untermeyer (1885 – 1977)

Poetry is the power of defining the indefinable in terms of the unforgettable.

Louis Untermeyer

Prayer For This House

by Louis Untermeyer

 

MAY nothing evil cross this door,
And may ill-fortune never pry
About these windows; may the roar
And rains go by.

Strengthened by faith, the rafters will
Withstand the battering of the storm.
This hearth, though all the world grow chill,
Will keep you warm.

Peace shall walk softly through these rooms,
Touching your lips with holy wine,
Till every casual corner blooms
Into a shrine.

Laughter shall drown the raucous shout
And, though the sheltering walls are thin,
May they be strong to keep hate out
And hold love in.


Louis Untermeyer was a businessman, poet, translator, educator and editor who followed his passion mid-life to become one of the most influential anthologists of poetry in the early 20th Century.   Untermeyer spent his 20’s and early 30’s in the family jewelry business in New York City, but eventually followed his literary passions.  He was fond of puns and rhymes and felt that poetry didn’t need to be an elite artistic endevour but was something that should be enjoyed by everyone.   He focused on a wide range of poetry, from children’s verse to poetry anthologies used in Universities to introduce countless college students to English literature.  

Untermeyer was a liberal all his life and aligned his politics around civil rights and a more just society.  Late in life he left New York City and like Frost,  retired to the country, preferring the solitude of his gardens and nature over the busy streets of New York City. 

Untermeyer is known more for his work as an anthologist and translator, but his own poetry I find playful and inspiring.  I was particularly taken with the poem above, but wonder how successful he was in his own right in the affirmation expressed.  Married and divorced four times, martial harmony in Untermeyer’s households seemed to have eluded him, now matter how strong the sentiments he successfully put to rhyme. 

Both Adams and Untermeyer share the distinction of serving as Poet Laureate when the title was known as the Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress.  Adams poem below took a bit for me to wrap my head around.  It is an example of a poem that I have a hard time connecting to the whole of it, but I was taken with these three lines; Thus I lived then, till this air breathed on me.  Till this kind are breathed kindness everywhere, There where my times had left me I would stay.  For me sometimes a couple of lines is all I take from a poem and the rest takes a while to sink in before the emotion or thoughts expand beyond the portion that I am attracted.  Sometimes the entirety of a poem I  never understand.   Do you have poems like that; where there is only one line that stays with you, inspires you? 


Alas, Kind Element!

By Leonie Adams 
 
Then I was sealed, and like the wintering tree
I stood me locked upon a summer core;
Living, had died a death, and asked no more.
And I lived then, but as enduringly,
And my heart beat, but only as to be.
Ill weathers well, hail, gust and cold I bore,
I held my life as hid, at root, in store:
Thus I lived then, till this air breathed on me.
Till this kind air breathed kindness everywhere,
There where my times had left me I would stay.
Then I was staunch, I knew nor yes nor no;
But now the wishful leaves have thronged the air.
My every leaf leans forth upon the day;
Alas, kind element! which comes to go.