Stephen Paine

Ezra Pound in his review of Robert Frost's "North of Boston" made the connection between the classical world of the Latin poet Vergil and the modern world. He thought that Frost wrote modern Georgics. What Ezra Pound was referring to was the literary tradition that started with Hesiod and Varro and was refined by Vergil in his monumental "Georgics." "The poem ["Georgics"] is descriptive not only of a varied countryside. It describes a way of life, and one which is held up as an ideal to readers jaded by the "dolce vita" and harrassments of urban society. Besides the tasks of a farmer's year and the festivals that are relief from them. Virgil gives us vignettes of country life. Thus at l.293, where he describes the farmer on a wintry night sitting by his fire and sharpening torches, he adds: [. . .] Meanwhile his wife, beguiling her tedious task with song, traverses her web with the humming shuttle, or boils down the liquid of sweet wine-must over the fire and skims the surface of the quivering pot with leaves. page 14 from L.P. Wilkinson, The Georgics of Virgil (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969). Mr. Beattie's "father's Arm & Hammer" is also a modern Georgics. It evokes a winter scene from his childhood that has the timeless quality of a universal pastoral scene if it were not for the contextualization through use of early twentieth century artifacts e.g.: "from the pinion end/of an early Ford axle." and "I see from the window the Ford,". It is an irredeemably nostalgic and sentimental recollection of his father at work; this recollection serves through various associations as a form of mental conduit by which he and the readers can reach an understanding of the wider world. This poem, as so often in Mr. Beattie's poems, is intensely personal but has an obvious universal appeal.

The description in the poem does remind one of the early works of Miroslav Holub who described the birth of a foal. It is a description that is evocative and precise. The father and his cow "make scuffing" sounds as they make their way through the frosty field. The verb "scuffing" is so appropriate, indeed the over-all diction in this poem is simply fantastic. The image of the father breathing in the morning air is unforgettable: his head thrown back blowing soda spume of Breath on morning's cool If these were the only lines of the poem, we, as readers wouldn't feel at all cheated. They have the imagistic intensity of a poem in themselves, and easily command autonomy.

Look too at the succeeding lines, each containing a careful and deliberate alliteration and "muscular" words of Anglo-Saxon derivation. while "snugging the spike up on the cow who, low, is unafraid of the granite sledge and chisel carving her day." What takes us away from this scene is the cow, she is a pivotal image, she "turns" on her "new day's circle" and this turning quite literally leads the poem from a description of a particular day, a boyhood memory, into a day that belongs to the universal scheme of things. The father becomes god-like, a Thor with his hammer, the father creator. It is he who awakes the son, but also awakes Heaven. For the poet the sound of the hammer is the equivalent of Proust's madeleine cake, it opens up all the world of his childhood.