Ode to a Scythe: A Pastoral
By Timothy Berezhnoy
Hand to handle—wooden stave—
weighted with a gleaming blade.
The wheat rises, ripe and swaying
on this cold crisp morn
ready to be mowed with uniform
motion of the edge that glides guided by my hands.
The work begins, the swaying side to side,
again, again with fellow blades and men
stepping in the field
A branch, a boulder, paths diverge,
only moments pass and again we merge
by the swaying rhythm of the scythes.
Sunbeams glimmer over tops of grain
as their heads are falling to the ground.
The crescent path of curving blades
wraps around, slicing (as if by surprise)
the shafts that fall like quiet breeze.
Yet the scythe continues, side to side,
as if knowing to gather sheaves is not its pride
The sweat beads on my upper lip and tastes
salty, yet the work is sweet
drowning with its rhythms the worries of the week.
Here there is no need for reveries,
but merely working hands and feet
marching to the rhythm of the gliding scythes.
* * * * *
This is a purely experimental poem which I wrote for my online poetry class. Though this class isn’t a poetry writing class, last week we had the option of writing a poem instead writing about poetry. But you may be wondering how in the world I got the idea to write about scythes and mowing wheat fields. Well, the assignment was to write a pastoral which is a type of poetry that has traditionally glorified the rural life. Many pastorals have been written that paint an idealistic picture of being out of the way of city life, living simply, and enjoying nature and solitude. I thought that to write a pastoral I would need to go to a farm or a park and just write about the experience, but I remembered something I recently experienced in my mind while listening to an audio book. The book was “Anna Karenina” by Leo Tolstoy.
Anna Karenina is a tragic love story. However, in a characteristically drawn out Russian way, Tolstoy unfolds the story by weaving into it the lives of many individuals. It is one of these individual lives, the life of Konstantin Levin, that opened a window for Tolstoy to write about how a rich land owner, Levin, decided to mow his own fields alongside his peasant workers. The way in which Tolstoy narrated this scene was so vivid that I was placed alongside Levin in his arduous and rhythmic work. I’ve never touched a scythe in my life, yet this story brought the experience alive to me in such a way that I could almost say, “I have experience in mowing.”
One of the especially fascinating details was how this physically demanding work gave Levin a certain freedom and satisfaction that he didn’t have in his research about farming, his aristocratic duties, or the experiences with high society. The work is what fulfilled him. Thus, I too exercised my mind alongside him, also remembering the times I’ve worked in such a way. It’s so fascinating how work fulfills us. It makes me grateful to God that he gives satisfaction when we strive and concentrate our efforts on one thing. After all, he didn’t make us to be idle.
So it’s through the experience within my imagination fueled by the prose of Leo Tolstoy that a poem emerged. There’s so much more that could be written, but perhaps I would need to actually pick up a scythe and start mowing.