Fred Chappell


                                        --a prologue to The Georgics

An early summer evening.
                                       The broad homophony
Of the hive of stars immerses the dark porches where
The farmers muse. It seems that all the earth there is
Has been taken by the plow, and the hedgy boundaries
Of orchards encroach upon the sea, all the sea
There is, the planet lapped in grateful breathing fields:
Here the labor is, here the finished work.

Night blackens the red ox in his pen, the roan hoarse
Shines like dust of galaxies: our faithful creatures–
For whom time passing is a patience almost mineral,
Whose sleep this evening folds over like a loamy furrow–
Snort, and settle to the ground like velvet boulders;
And ivy in the night curls up about them bronze.

The farmers and their animals have molded the world
To a shape like some smooth monumental family group,
The father mountains, mother clouds, their progeny meadows
Disposed about them, as if posing for a photograph
To be taken from a silver orbiting spaceship by beings
Like angelic horses, who return to their home world
With pleasant report: Leave Earth alone, it is at peace.

Always the Poet knew it wasn't so.
War throughout the globe, justice and injustice
Confounded, every sort of knavery, the plow
Disused unhonored, the farmer conscripted and his scythe
Straitly misshapen to make a cruel sword.
                                                                The East
Imbrued, and northern Europe, and all the smaller tribes
Ceaselessly breaking their treaties, and Mars the bully
Savages every field. The shepherd and the herdsman,
Et robustus item curvi moderator aratri,
And the muscular steersman of the crooked plow, are killed,
The cottage mothers flung on the corpses of their children–
As when the horses seize the bit from the chariot-driver
And thunder over the circus barrier into the crowd,
He jerks the useless reins, the car will not respond.

Such slaughter, they say, manures the fields of Utopia,
So that the plowman in a sleepier century
Turns up the bones of a legendary Diomedes
And marvels that the land had nourished those giants
Who now have become the subsoil in which the Capitol
Is footed, where the softhanded senators daylong
Argue the townsman's ancient case against the farmer:
He is behind the times, he will never understand.
The decisions there brought back in the form of levies
And soldiers, who look with envious eyes upon this life
They fleer at, guzzling the raw-edged country wine.

But nothing changes. The war grinds over the world and all
Its politics, the soldiers marry the farmer's daughters
And tell their plowman sons about the fight at the Scaean Gate,
And other sanguine braveries the dust has eaten.
Sundown still draws the chickens to their purring roost,
The cow to the milking stall, the farmer to his porch to watch
If the soaring constellations promise rain.

Fred Chappell, Spring Garden: New and Selected Poems, Louisiana
State University Press, 1995.