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An essay by Dallas Lore Sharp

Spring Ploughing

Title:     Spring Ploughing
Author: Dallas Lore Sharp [More Titles by Sharp]

"See-Saw, Margery Daw!
Sold her bed and lay upon straw"

--the very worst thing, I used to think, that ever happened in Mother Goose. I might steal a pig, perhaps, like Tom the Piper's Son, but never would I do such a thing as Margery did; the dreadful picture of her nose and of that bottle in her hand made me sure of that. And yet--snore on, Margery!--I sold my _plough_ and bought an automobile! As if an automobile would carry me

"To the island-valley of Avilion,"

where I should no longer need the touch of the soil and the slow simple task to heal me of my grievous wound!

Speed, distance, change--are these the cure for that old hurt we call living, the long dull ache of winter, the throbbing bitter-sweet pain of spring? We seek for something different, something not different but faster and still faster, to fill our eyes with flying, our ears with rushing, our skins with scurrying, our diaphragms, which are our souls, with the thrill of curves, and straight stretches, of lifts, and drops, and sudden halts--as of elevators, merry-go-rounds, chutes, scenic railways, aeroplanes, and heavy low-hung cars.

To go--up or down, or straight away--anyway, but round and round, and slowly--as if one could speed away from being, or ever travel beyond one's self! How pathetic to sell all that one has and buy an automobile! to shift one's grip from the handles of life to the wheel of change! to forsake the furrow for the highway, the rooted soil for the flying dust, the here for the there; imagining that somehow a car is more than a plough, that going is the last word in living--demountable rims and non-skid tires, the great gift of the God Mechanic, being the 1916 model of the wings of the soul!

But women must weep in spite of modern mechanics, and men must plough. Petroleum, with all of its by-products, cannot be served for bread. I have tried many substitutes for ploughing; and as for the automobile, I have driven that thousands of miles, driven it almost daily, summer and winter; but let the blackbirds return, let the chickweed start in the garden, then the very stones of the walls cry out--"Plough! plough!"

It is not the stones I hear, but the entombed voices of earlier primitive selves far back in my dim past; those, and the call of the boy I was yesterday, whose landside toes still turn in, perhaps, from walking in the furrow. When that call comes, no

"Towered cities please us then
And the busy hum of men,"

or of automobiles. I must plough. It is the April wind that wakes the call--

"Zephirus eek, with his sweete breeth"--

and many hearing it long to "goon on pilgrimages," or to the Maine woods to fish, or, waiting until the 19th, to leave Boston by boat and go up and down the shore to see how fared their summer cottages during the winter storms; some even imagine they have malaria and long for bitters--as many men as many minds when

"The time of the singing of birds is come
And the voice of the turtle is heard in our land."

But as for me it is neither bitters, nor cottages, nor trout, nor

"ferne halwes couth in sondry landes"

that I long for: but simply for the soil, for the warming, stirring earth, for my mother. It is back to her breast I would go, back to the wide sweet fields, to the slow-moving team and the lines about my shoulder, to the even furrow rolling from the mould-board, to the taste of the soil, the sight of the sky, the sound of the robins and bluebirds and blackbirds, and the ringing notes of Highhole over the sunny fields.

I hold the plough as my only hold upon the earth, and as I follow through the fresh and fragrant furrow I am planted with every footstep, growing, budding, blooming into a spirit of the spring. I can catch the blackbirds ploughing, I can turn under with my furrow the laughter of the flowers, the very joy of the skies. But if I so much as turn in my tracks, the blackbirds scatter; if I shout, Highhole is silent; if I chase the breeze, it runs away; I might climb into the humming maples, might fill my hands with arbutus and bloodroot, might run and laugh aloud with the light; as if with feet I could overtake it, could catch it in my hands, and in my heart could hold it all--this living earth, shining sky, flowers, buds, voices, colors, odors--this spring!

But I can plough--while the blackbirds come close behind me in the furrow; and I can be the spring.

I could plough, I mean, when I had a plough. But I sold it for five dollars and bought a second-hand automobile for fifteen hundred--as everybody else has. So now I do as everybody else does,--borrow my neighbor's plough, or still worse, get my neighbor to do my ploughing, being still blessed with a neighbor so steadfast and simple as to possess a plough. But I must plough or my children's children will never live to have children,--they will have motor cars instead. The man who pulls down his barns and builds a garage is not planning for posterity. But perhaps it does not matter; for while we are purring cityward over the sleek and tarry roads, big hairy Finns are following the plough round and round our ancestral fields, planting children in the furrows, so that there shall be some one here when we have motored off to possess the land.

I see no way but to keep the automobile and buy another plough, not for my children's sake any more than for my own. There was an old man living in this house when I bought it who moved back into the city and took with him, among other things, a big grindstone and two long-handled hayforks--for crutches, did he think? and to keep a cutting edge on the scythe of his spirit as he mowed the cobblestones? When I am old and my children compel me to move back near the asylums and hospitals, I shall carry into the city with me a plough; and I shall pray the police to let me go every springtime to the Garden or the Common and there turn a few furrows as one whom still his mother comforteth.

It is only a few furrows that I now turn. A half-day and it is all over, all the land ploughed that I own,--all that the Lord intended should be tilled. A half-day--but every fallow field and patch of stubble within me has been turned up in that time, given over for the rain and sunshine to mellow and put into tender tilth.

No other labor, no other contact with the earth is like ploughing. You may play upon it, travel over it, delve into it, build your house down on it; but when you strike into the bosom of the fields with your ploughshare, wounding and healing as your feet follow deep in the long fresh cut, you feel the throbbing of the heart of life through the oaken handles as you never felt it before; you are conscious of a closer union,--dust with dust,--of a more mystical union,--spirit with spirit,--than any other approach, work, or rite, or ceremony, can give you. You move, but your feet seem to reach through and beyond the furrow like the roots of the oak tree; sun and air and soil are yours as if the blood in your veins were the flow of all sweet saps, oak and maple and willow, and your breath their bloom of green and garnet and gold.

And so, until I get a new plough and a horse to pull it, I shall hire my neighbor--hire him to drive the horses, while I hold in the plough! This is what I have come to! _Hiring_ another to skim my cream and share it! Let me handle both team and plough, a plough that guides itself, and a deep rich piece of bottom land, and a furrow,--a long straight furrow that curls and crests like a narrow wave and breaks evenly into the trough of the wave before.

But even with the hired plough, I am taking part in the making of spring; and more: I am planting me again as a tree, a bush, a mat of chickweed,--lowly, tiny, starry-flowered chickweed,--in the earth, whence, so long ago it sometimes seems, I was pulled up.

But the ploughing does more--more than root me as a weed. Ploughing is walking not by sight. A man believes, trusts, worships something he cannot see when he ploughs. It is an act of faith. In all time men have known and _feared_ God; but there must have been a new and higher consciousness when they began to plough. They hunted and feared God and remained savage; they ploughed, trusted, and loved God--and became civilized.

Nothing more primitive than the plough have we brought with us out of our civilized past. In the furrow was civilization cradled, and there, if anywhere, shall it be interred.

You go forth unto your day's work, if you have land enough, until the Lord's appointed close; then homeward plod your weary way, leaving the world to the poets. Not yours

"The hairy gown, the mossy cell."

You have no need of them.

What more

"Of every star that Heaven doth shew
And every hearb that sips the dew"

can the poet spell than all day long you have _felt_? Has ever poet handled more of life than you? Has he ever gone deeper than the bottom of your furrow, or asked any larger faith than you of your field? Has he ever found anything sweeter or more satisfying than the wholesome toilsome round of the plough?

[The end]
Dallas Lore Sharp's essay: Spring Ploughing