of the poem is always brightened by a dehberate andnartificial appeal to the myth of the Golden Age, the didacticnpassages are carefully informed by the best scientific knowledgenof the time.nBut that may have been a necessary mistake. Nothingnquaintifies so quickly as scientific knowledge, and ourncentury, which has deceived itself into believing that itnactually knows something about nature, may look upon thenGeorgics as no more than a curious compilation of ancientnerror. There are, for example, the long famous passagesnabout bee society in which Vergil describes the control ofnthe hive under the King Bee and gives an account of thenspontaneous generation of the insect. My own copy of thenGeorgics is an 1816 reprint of the 1740 edition by JohnnMartyn, then professor of botany at Cambridge, who differsnfrom our contemporary scientists in his anxiety to vindicatenVergil rather than to refute him. When he must correctnrather than support the information, he displays a pleasingndiffidence: “The Poet’s account of the generation of bees isnby no means consistent with the doctrine of the modernnphilosophers, who assert with great probability, that nonanimal, or even plant, is produced without a concurrencenof the two sexes. However, the doctrine of equivocalngeneration was so generally admitted by the ancients, that itnis no wonder our Poet should assent to it.” (Martyn’snphrase, “or even plant,” probably shows that he has butnlately accepted the ideas of Linnaeus.) And on the matter ofnthe King: “But the modern philosophers have been morenhappy in discovering the nature of these wonderful insects.nThe labouring bees do not appear to be of either sex; thendrones are discovered to have the male organs of generation;nand the king is found to be of the female sex.”nBut our 20th-century scientists love pecking orders; theynhave arranged an inflexible one among their own disciplines,nwith particle physics at the top and sociology ornmaybe economics at the bottom. If they were asked to ranknthe poet as a purveyor of reliable knowledge, they mightnplace him somewhere below a computer software salesmannand only slightly above a political candidate. It was this sortnof arrogance that most rankled John Crowe Ransom andnAllen Tate, and they took up arms to defend poetry againstnit. Mr. Tate was very proud of his definition of poetry asnknowledge carried to the heart, and on the several occasionsnwhen he quoted it to me, he underlined it with a significantnglance.nThat is a nifty and telling phrase, but it does not answernall objections. Can every sort of knowledge be fashionedninto poetry and given such memorable emotional force thatnit is carried to the heart? T.S. Eliot denied the possibility ofna modern counterpart to the Georgics, declaring informationalndidactic poetry dead as a form. But Eliot’s dictumnprobably points up a fact the contemporary poet does notnlike to admit, that for all its vaunted toughness, modernnpoetry simply cannot accommodate such masses of obviousnand irreplaceable information as we find in Vergil’s lines.nEven the current preoccupation with brutality and despairnis only a symptom of preciosity. A poetry which can nonlonger rejoice in daily homely labor, which cannot—innVergil’s phrase—honor the plow, will never be convincingnin its continual wheedling about political injustice.nNudus ara, sere nudus. “Plow naked, naked sow,” Vergilntells us. The scientist will surely find this bit of advicencharacteristically silly, but the elder farmers I remembernfrom my youth would know instinctively what it means—nand Vance Randolph reports the practice carried on to thenletter in remote spots in Arkansas even in the 1930’s. Thenwords are there to remind us of the ceremonial, andnultimately religious, nature of farming; they remind us ofnthe selfless rituals we must undergo in order to keep faith.nOn the subject of this faith I could never do better than tonquote John S. Collis on the potato:nWhen we eat a potato we eat the earth, and we eatnthe sky. It is the law of nature that all things are allnthings. That which does not appear to exist to-daynis to-morrow hewn down and cast into the oven.nNature carries on by taking in her own washing.nThat is Nature’s economy, contrary to politicalneconomy; so that he who cries “Wolfl Wolf!” isnnumbered amongst the infidels. . . . What is anninfidel? One who lacks faith. What creates faith? Anmiracle. How then can there be a faithless mannfound in the world? Because many men have cutnoff the nervous communication between the eyenand the brain. In the madness of blindness they arenat the mercy of intellectual nay-sayers, theorists,ntheologians, and other enemies of God. But itndoesn’t matter; in spite of them, faith is rebornnwhen anyone chooses to take a good look atnanything—even a potato.nThis passage is from Collis’ The Worm Forgives the Plough;nhis best book. While Following the Plough, is perhaps alsonthe best—though unintended—commentary on the Georgics.nIt has been out of print for exactiy 40 years.nBut the question becomes, would our poets understandnVergil’s advice to plow and sow naked? The largest purposenof the Georgics is not to dignify, but to sanctify, honest farmnlabor. A reader who has not looked at it in a long time findsnhe has forgotten that the poem is full of stars. Even thensmallest task must be undertaken in due season under thenproper constellations. These prescriptions are not merenmeteorology; they connect the order of the earth to thenorder of the stars. The farmer moves by the motion of thenstars, and his labors determine the concerns of the government.nThe Roman State is not founded upon the soil, it isnfounded in the universe. And so were all the otherncivilizations which managed to endure for any length ofntime. If poets do not wish to study these matters and treat ofnthem, they shirk their responsibilities and fail their society.nYet I suppose that if a contemporary poet does not feelnthis responsibility, then it is not his. It is all too easy to sit inna self-appointed judgment seat and allocate responsibilitiesnto one’s fellows. The impulse to do so may even proceednfrom Vergil, who had a very acute sense of responsibility.nThe Georgics and the Aeneid were his duties rather than hisnpleasures. An honorable tradition makes poetry secondarynin his affections; he had more love of philosophy, and thenpassage of the second Georgic in which he speaks of hisnLueretian ambitions is truly poignant:nnn(continued on the following page)nJULY 1986/13n