Academic journal article The Hudson Review

Harrow in Field

Academic journal article The Hudson Review

Harrow in Field

Article excerpt

anonymous oil on panel, c. 1500

If geography's what's left when history

Fades to some desiderata stuck

To the foot, scraped off like cowdung

At the door,

Then we have come to the right place,

A field, this field, the smell of earth,

Dawn, and two clownish Dutchmen

(Clown from clod-

A derivation wholly lost to the midden

Unless centuries are pried back to show

The brown-clotted, briny stuff

That dike's flood

Left as some glomming pestilence

To stick and stick again to plodders

Striking out for godforsaken

Mud-brown flats).

If there's a meaning to their work

We cannot derive it from blotches

Sublimely thrown against sky,

Like dark mud

On lighter mud, and the historian

Is obliged to note the brazen lack

Of individualizing detail:

Men are clods,

Clods making clowns of any man.

This is what the years' receding muck

Has left on pasture, anvil, gate

Dull in sun;

While someone, a bare-armed woman,

No more than a brushstroke's blur,

Leans from a window calling the two

Back-or not-

The sun streaking her cocked head;

While soldiers harrowing geese

Wheel and turn in sodden furrows:

Just out of

Reach they seem, at plowed margins:

Moving, as they are, toward a westerly

Vanishing point whose coordinates

Must be thence. …

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