Saturday, December 29, 2012


The Obstinate Old Way

Vita Sackville-West (1892-1962), The Land (lines 561-603 of section "Winter"):
He tills the soil to-day,
Surly and grave, his difficult wage to earn.
Cities of discontent, the sickened nerve,
Are still a fashion that he will not learn.
His way is still the obstinate old way,        565
Even though his horses stare above the hedge,
And whinny, while the tractor drives its wedge
Where they were wont to serve,
And iron robs them of their privilege.
Still is his heart not given        570
To such encroachments on a natural creed;
Not wholly given, though he bows to need
By urgency and competition driven,
And vanity, to follow with the tide.
Still with a secret triumph he will say,        575
"Tractor for sand, maybe, but horse for clay,"
And in his calling takes a stubborn pride
That nature still defeats
The frowsty science of the cloistered men,
Their theory, their conceits;        580
The faith within him still derides the pen,
Experience his text-book. What have they,
The bookish townsmen in their dry retreats,
Known of December dawns, before the sun
Reddened the east, and fields were wet and grey?        585
When have they gone, another day begun,
By tracks into a quagmire trodden,
With sacks about their shoulders and the damp
Soaking until their very souls were sodden,
To help a sick beast, by a flickering lamp,        590
With rough words and kind hands?
Or felt their boots so heavy and so swere
With trudging over cledgy lands,
Held fast by earth, being to earth so near?

Book-learning they have known.        595
They meet together, talk, and grow most wise,
But they have lost, in losing solitude,
Something,—an inward grace, the seeing eyes,
The power of being alone;
The power of being alone with the earth and skies,         600
Of going about a task with quietude,
Aware at once of earth's surrounding mood
And of an insect crawling on a stone.
579 frowsty: "Fusty; having an unpleasant smell." (OED)
592 swere: "Loth, reluctant, unwilling, disinclined (to do something)." (OED s.v. sweer)
593 cledgy: "Of the nature of cledge; clayey; stiff, tenacious, sticky." (OED; cledge = " A local name for clay or clayey soil, in Kent, etc.")

And instead of "the obstinate old way," here is the painless new way, as imagined by one of "the cloistered men," Kevin Kelly, "Better Than Human," Wired (December 24, 2012):
The real revolution erupts when everyone has personal their beck and call. Imagine you run a small organic farm. Your fleet of worker bots do all the weeding, pest control, and harvesting of produce, as directed by an overseer bot, embodied by a mesh of probes in the soil. One day your task might be to research which variety of heirloom tomato to plant; the next day it might be to update your custom labels. The bots perform everything else that can be measured.

Isaak Levitan, Evening in the Field

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