“The farmer cleaves the earth with his curved plow.
This is his yearlong work, thus he sustains
His homeland, thus his little grandchildren,
His herds and trusty bullocks. Never a pause!”
Virgil, The Georgics
A man puts a plow in the earth. Behind a horse. He knows the horse; he knows the plow. And he knows the earth. His earth.
This is what he does. It’s his work. It’s fruitful work. He could do it in his sleep. But in fact he is alive and connected to the world all around him.
His labor comes in seasons; yet, like the needs of the bodies of his loved ones, it never ceases. He keeps putting his hand to the plow with confidence, and knowledge, and often joy. It’s always about people, whom he loves.
In many places it is now the season to plant in the garden for the fall harvest—especially greens. As I try to squeeze some planting into my overly busy schedule, my thoughts go to the man of Virgil’s Georgics.
Is finding delight in thinking on this man an escape from reality? Surely for most people that man’s life is rather distant from the reality of our day to day life.
But perhaps it need not be so distant. Daydreaming about vacationing at the beach for months on end—that seems an escapism. The life of the plowman, the husbandman, the peasant, simply from an historical viewpoint, is no escape. It is human. Even in its very toughness and obvious pain it calls out to us.
To reflect on the simple pattern of such a life gives occasion to consider the real meaning and purpose of work, and of life itself. Somehow that plow sustains his family and his homeland, even as it unites him to earth, plants, animals, and most of all, people. That plow is an instrument of much more than just labor; it is an instrument of a deeply human life.
All instruments of work can be judged, and illuminated, in reference to a plow. And the measure of our work is in large part the measure of our life.
Virgil (70-19 B.C.) is the great Roman poet, author of The Aeneid and The Georgics. In the Divine Comedy he appears as Dante’s guide through hell and purgatory.
Image: by William Crawford (1822-1869), Scottish
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