Build Soil: a Political Pastoral

by Robert Frost, 1932

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 it 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.
1 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 thing 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
All, 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.
It well may be. We meet I don’t say when
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:

Let me be the one
To do what is done

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.

3 Comments

Filed under Economics, Poetry

3 responses to “Build Soil: a Political Pastoral

  1. Axon

    Tucker, I am trying to build my poetic knowledge – enlarge my soul – begin to love poetry. I would love a list with which to start. Someday I will take that class by James Taylor. Until then, I’m on my own. Do you have recommendations? (Someday I will be asking you about movies too! Right now all we have time for is the occasional Friday Night Lights marathon…)

  2. Axon, it’s difficult to say where to start with poetry. There is a lot of great poetry out there, and some is easy to read and some is difficult. Plus, I am no expert on poetry. But I can say that I love to pick up a book of collected poems from a single poet and read cover to cover. That way one can really get into the mind and genius of a particular poet. Two poets that have meant a lot to me are Seamus Heaney and Czesław Miłosz.

    I would recommend these two books:
    http://www.amazon.com/New-Collected-Poems-Czeslaw-Milosz/dp/0060514485/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1325353038&sr=8-1

    http://www.amazon.com/Opened-Ground-Selected-Poems-1966-1996/dp/0374526788/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1325353114&sr=1-1

    At first I would suggest not worrying about “getting” all they write, but just read, maybe re-read some, and keep reading. Plow through and their secrets will be revealed.

    Other poets I love are William Wordsworth, W. B. Yeats, and Wendell Berry. Pick up any of their works and read a lot, you will be rewarded.

    One of the best things you can do is write poetry. Just write and don’t imagine that you are a poet wannabe, but just someone exploring your thoughts with words. Find poems by others that you love and think how you might imitate their style. Think of an experience you had, maybe as simple as going for a walk or playing with your kids, and see how you can explore the transcendence of that moment in words–not with the intent of being profound, but just simple and true. To write poetry gives one better eyes and ears for the poetry of others.

    When it comes to how we use words, I find there is nothing more human than poetry.

  3. Axon

    Tucker, thank you so much. I am anxious to begin. This is probably so obvious, but I have finally realized that reading poetry softly aloud really brings it alive to me. And I love your phrase “nothing is more human than poetry”. I have been reading much of the Ordo Amoris blog through CIRCE – I love this post (http://dominionfamily.blogspot.com/2009/12/homeschooling-freeborn.html), particularly that the freeborn man is a warrior poet. Anyway, also, I don’t believe I ever really thanked you for your generous and thoughtful reply regarding Orthodoxy. It was very helpful. Hope you guys had a fabulous Christmas season and are looking forward to a great year.

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