Build SoilA Political Pastoral

Why Tityrus! But you've forgotten me.

I'm Meliboeus the potato man,

The one you had the talk with, you remember,

Here on this very campus years ago

Hard times have struck me and I'm on the move

I've had to give my interval farm up

For interest, and I've bought a mountain farm

For nothing down, all-out-doors of a place,

All woods and pasture only fit for sheep.

But sheep is what I'm going into next.

I'm done forever with potato crops

At thirty cents a bushel. Give me sheep.

I know wool's down to seven cents a pound.

But I don't calculate to sell my wool.

I didn't my potatoes. I consumed them.

I'll dress up in sheep's clothing and eat sheep.

The Muse takes care of you. You live by writing

Your poems on a farm and call that farming.

Oh I don't blame you. I say take life easy.

I should myself, only I don't know how.

But have some pity on us who have to work.

Why don't you use your talents as a writer

To advertise our farms to city buyers,

Or else write something to improve food prices.

Get in a poem toward the next election.

Oh Meliboeus, I have half a mind To take a writing hand in politics. Before now poetry has taken notice Of wars, and what are wars but politics Transformed from chronic to acute and bloody?,

I may be wrong, but Tityrus to me The times seem revolutionary bad.

The question is whether they've reached a depth

Of desperation that would warrant poetry's

Leaving love's alternations, joy and grief,

The weather's alternations, summer and winter,

Our age-long theme, for the uncertainty

Of judging who is a contemporary liar—

Who in particular, when all alike

Get called as much in clashes of ambition.

Life may be tragically bad, and I

Make bold to sing it so, but do I dare

Name names and tell you who by name is wicked?

Whittier's luck with Skipper Ireson awes me.

Many men's luck with Greatest Washington

(Who sat for Stuart's portrait, but who sat

Equally for the nation's Constitution).

I prefer to sing safely in the realm

Of types, composite and imagined people:

To affirm there is such a thing as evil

Personified, but ask to be excused

From saying on a jury 'Here's the guilty.'

I doubt if you're convinced the times are bad. I keep my eye on Congress, Meliboeus. They're in the best position of us all To know if anything is very wrong. I mean they could be trusted to give the alarm If earth were thought about to change its axis, Or a star coming to dilate the sun. As long as lightly all their live-long sessions, Like a yard full of school boys out at recess

Before their plays and games were organized, They yelling mix tag, hide-and-seek, hop-scotch, And leap frog in each other's way,—all's well. Let newspapers profess to fear the worst! Nothing's portentous, I am reassured.

Is socialism needed, do you think?

We have it now. For socialism is

An element in any government.

There's no such tiling as socialism pure—

Except as an abstraction of the mind.

There's only democratic socialism

Monarchic socialism—oligarchic,

The last being what they seem to have in Russia.

You often get it most in monarchy,

Least in democracy. In practice, pure,

I don't know what it would be. No one knows.

I have no doubt like all the loves when

Philosophized together into one—

One sickness of the body and the soul.

Thank God our practice holds the loves apart

Beyond embarrassing self-consciousness

Where natural friends are met, where dogs are kept,

Where women pray with priests. There is no love.

There's only love of men and women, love

Of children, love of friends, of men, of God,

Divine love, human love, parental love,

Roughly discriminated for the rough.

Poetry, itself once more, is back in love.

Pardon the analogy, my Meliboeus,

For sweeping me away. Let's see, where was I?

But don't you think more should be socialized Than is?

What should you mean by socialized?

Made good for everyone—things like inventions-Made so we all should get the good of them— AH, not just great exploiting businesses.

We sometimes only get the bad of them.

In your sense of the word ambition has

Been socialized—the first propensity

To be attempted. Greed may well come next.

But the worst one of all to leave uncurbed,

Unsocialized, is ingenuity:

Which for no sordid self-aggrandizement,

For nothing but its own blind satisfaction

(In this it is as much like hate as love)

Works in the dark as much against as for us.

Even while we talk some chemist at Columbia

Is stealthily contriving wool from jute

That when let loose upon the grazing world

Will put ten thousand farmers out of sheep.

Everyone asks for freedom for himself,

The man free love, the business man free trade,

The writer and talker free speech and free press.

Political ambition has been taught,

By being punished back, it is not free:

It must at some point gracefully refrain.

Greed has been taught a little abnegation

And shall be more before we're done with it.

It is just fool enough to think itself

Self-taught. But our brute snarling and lashing taught it.

None shall be as ambitious as he can.

None should be as ingenious as he could, Not if I had my say. Bounds should be set To ingenuity for being so cruel In bringing change unheralded on the unready.

I elect you to put the curb on it.

Were I dictator, I'll tell you what I'd do.

What should you do?

I'd let things take their course And then I'd claim the credit for the outcome.

You'd make a sort of safety-first dictator.

Don't let the things I say against myself Betray you into taking sides against me, Or it might get you into trouble with me. I'm not afraid to prophesy the future, And be judged by the outcome, Meliboeus. Listen and I will take my dearest risk. We're always too much out or too much in. At present from a cosmical dilation We're so much out that the odds are against Our ever getting inside in again. But inside in is where we've got to get. My friends all know I'm interpersonal. But long before I'm interpersonal Away 'way down inside I'm personal. Just so before we're international We' re national and act as nationals. The colors are kept unmixed on the palette, Or better on dish plates all around the room,

So the effect when they are mixed on canvas

May seem almost exclusively designed.

Some minds are so confounded intermental

They remind me of pictures on a palette:

'Look at what happened. Surely some God pinxit.

Come look at my significant mud pie.'

It's hard to tell which is the worse abhorrence

Whether it's persons pied or nations pied.

Don't let me seem to say the exchange, the encounter,

May not be the important thing at last.

But must bring to the meeting the maturest,

The longest-saved-up, raciest, localest

We have strength of reserve in us to bring.

Tityrus, sometimes I'm perplexed myself To find the good of commerce. Why should I Have to sell you my apples and buy yours? It can't be just to give the robber a chance To catch them and take toll of them in transit. Too mean a thought to get much comfort out of. I figure that like any bandying Of words or toys, it ministers to health. It very likely quickens and refines us.

To market 'tis our destiny to go. But much as in the end we bring for sale there There is still more we never bring or should bring; More that should be kept back—the soil for instance In my opinion,—though we both know poets Who fall all over each other to bring soil And even subsoil and hardpan to market. To sell the hay off, let alone the soil,

Is an unpardonable sin in farming. The moral is, make a late start to market. Let me preach to you, will you Meliboeus? Preach on. I thought you were already preaching. But preach and see if I can tell the difference.

Needless to say to you, my argument Is not to lure the city to the country. Let those possess the land and only those, Who love it with a love so strong and stupid That they may be abused and taken advantage of And made fun of by business, law and art; They still hang on. That so much of the earth's Unoccupied need not make us uneasy. We don't pretend to complete occupancy. The world's one globe, human society Another softer globe that slightly flattened Rests on the world, and clinging slowly rolls. We have our own round shape to keep unbroken. The world's size has no more to do with us Than has the universe's. We are balls, We are round from the same source of roundness. We are both round because the mind is round, Because all reasoning is in a circle. At least that's why the universe is round.

If what you're preaching is a line of conduct, Just what am I supposed to do about it? Reason in circles?

No, refuse to be Seduced back to the land by any claim The land may seem to have on man to use it.

Let none assume to till the land but farmers. I only speak to you as one of them. You shall go to your run-out mountain farm, Poor cast-away of commerce, and so live That none shall ever see you come to market— Not for a long long time. Plant, breed, produce, But what you raise or grow, why feed it out, Eat it or plow it under where it stands To build the soil. For what is more accursed Than an impoverished soil pale and metallic? What cries more to our kind for sympathy? I'll make a compact with you, Meliboeus, To match you deed for deed and plan for plan. Friends crowd around me with their five year plans That Soviet Russia has made fashionable. You come to me and I'll unfold to you A five year plan I call so, not because It takes ten years or so to carry out, Rather because it took five years at least To think it out. Come close, let us conspire— In self-restraint, if in restraint of trade. You will go to your run-out mountain farm And do what I command you. I take care To command only what you meant to do Anyway. That is my style of dictator. Build soil. Turn the farm in upon itself Until it can contain itself no more, But sweating-full, drips wine and oil a little. I will go to my run-out social mind And be as unsocial with it as I can. The thought I have, and my first impulse is To take to market—I will turn it under. The thought from that thought—I will turn it under.

And so on to the limit of my nature. We are too much out, and if we won't draw in We shall be driven in. I was brought up A state-rights free-trade Democrat. What's that? An inconsistency. The state shall be Laws to itself, it seems, and yet have no Control of what it sells or what it buys. Suppose someone comes near me who in rate Of speech and thinking is so much my better I am imposed on, silenced and discouraged. Do I submit to being supplied by him As the more economical producer, More wonderful, more beautiful producer? No. I unostentatiously move off Far enough for my thought-flow to resume. Thought product and food product are to me Nothing compared to the producing of them I sent you once a song with the refrain:

My share at least lest I be empty-idle. Keep off each other and keep each other off. You see the beauty of my proposal is It needn't wait on general revolution. I bid you to a one-man revolution— The only revolution that is coming. We're too unseparate out among each other— With goods to sell and notions to impart. A youngster comes to me with half a quatrain To ask me if I think it worth the pains Of working out the rest, the other half. I am brought guaranteed young prattle poems

Made publicly in school, above suspicion Of plagiarism and help of cheating parents. We congregate embracing from distrust As much as love, and too close in to strike And be so very striking. Steal away The song says. Steal away and stay away. Don't join too many gangs. Join few if any. Join the United States and join the family— But not much in between unless a college. Is it a bargain, Shepherd Meliboeus?

Probably but you're far too fast and strong For my mind to keep working in your presence. I can tell better after I get home, Better a month from now when cutting posts Or mending fence it all comes back to me What I was thinking when you interrupted My life-train logic. I agree with you We're too unseparate. And going home From company means coming to our senses.

To a Thinker

JLhe last step taken found your heft Decidedly upon the left. One more would throw you on the right. Another still—you see your plight. You call this thinking, but it's walking. Not even that, it's only rocking, Or weaving like a stabled horse: From force to matter and back to force, From form to content and back to form, From norm to crazy and back to norm, From bound to free and back to bound, From sound to sense and back to sound. So back and forth. It almost scares A man the way things come in pairs. Just now you're off democracy (With a polite regret to be), And leaning on dictatorship; But if you will accept the tip, In less than no time, tongue and pen, You'll be a democrat again. A reasoner and good as such, Don't let it bother you too much If it makes you look helpless please And a temptation to the tease. Suppose you've no direction in you, I don't see but you must continue To use the gift you do possess, And sway with reason more or less. I own I never really warmed To the reformer or reformed,

And yet conversion has its place Not half way down the scale of grace. So if you find you must repent From side to side in argument, At least don't use your mind too hard, But trust my instinct—I'm a bard.


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  • lorena
    Why would robert frost write pastoral poetry at the time of massive urbanization?
    4 months ago

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