PTTn:?n.*nVIEWSnTHE POET AND THE PLOWMANnSurprisingly often we talked about Vergil, usually aboutnthe Aeneid, but sometimes about the Georgics, and thennwith the wry sentimental fondness of old students who hadnbeen made, not quite willingly, to go to school to the poem.nAnd during the plentiful longueurs of the Redskin games ofnthe mid-1960’s, we would regret that so many traditionalnattractions of farm life had seemed to disappear along withnour Latin. Then he would smile and say in his breathynironic genteel Kentucky accent: “But we would makendreadful farmers, Fred, you and I.”nThis was Allen Tate, who would spend Sunday afternoonsnat my home during his two-week teaching stints innGreensboro because I enjoyed watching television footballnwith him. (“I admire the precision,” he said, “Machinelike.”)nHe maintained that poets should be only spectatornfarmers—doubting that Vergil had ever struck a lick with anhoe—and that when they became active husbandmen,nthey cut ridiculous figures or were unhappy and embittered.nHe was thinking of Jesse Stuart and Robert Frost and ofnHesiod, and I thought of the bittersweet work of WendellnBerry.nIt was partly because of his allegiance to the valu^of ann. :Ptm^^n•K’/r’-ihi, ^nf ‘ “..».””* *sn12 / CHRONICLESn’. – • <.’%nAMmM’ecnby Fred Chappellnagricultural society that he liked to describe himself as an”reactionary.” That was rather a belligerent term in then1960’s (and must have been more so in the 1930’s when hendeveloped his stance), and I was puzzled by it. Later I camento understand that for Mr. Tate, it meant something liken”radical conservative,” and that he was pleased to alignnhimself with Poe and John C. Calhoun equally. The morenthoughtful attitudes are the harder to define, and his usagenof “reactionary” was both ironic and earnest at the samentime.nThe ageless relationship between poetry and farmingnprobably has always been sentimental and ironic; the twondisciplines would seem to have mostly accidental requirementsnin common: patience, fatalism, renunciation, awe ofnnature, reverence for the earth. When we remind ourselvesnthat our word verse came originally from versus, turning thenplow at the end of a furrow, we must wonder what strangenterrain the contemporary poet is tilling with his wildlynstaggered furrows. When we think of the small farmernsupporting his agriculture by means of another job innfactory or town, perhaps we think of all the American poetsnperched at insecure university posts. Othello’s occupation isnnot gone, not in our century; but Cincinnatus’ is—andnmaybe Vergil’s also.nnnIt has never been possible to say where the poet fits in thenbasic economies of nations, but it has always been clear thatnthe farmer lodges at the bottom, as the necessary andnunchangeable foundation. The position may be necessary,nbut it is not glamorous. Scholars have faithfully diminishednthe old legend about the Georgics, that the poem wasnwritten at the suggestion of Augustus in order to lurenfarmer-soldiers back to the land after they had acquired antaste for plunder, luxury, and urbanity. (“How you gonnankeep ’em down on the farm after they’ve seen Paree?”) Butnthe legend did account for the double nature of the poemnwhich, while it celebrates the grandeur of the land and thenhieratic ceremoniousness of farm work, does not stint innpointing out the difficulties and dangers. The poet is carefulnto draw in the disasters of flood, fire, drought, frost, andncrop failure; whoever they were, his intended audience wasnnot naive.nOn one side, then, the poem is acceptably realistic, butnVergil is also at pains to show that he stands at somendistance from his subject, that his poem is a bookish poem.nHe pays direct tribute to some of his sources; Aristaeus,nHesiod, Cato the Elder, Aristotle. If the celebratory aspectnFred Chappell’s most recent book is The Source (LousiananState University Press).n