WHEN the farmer is a poet anything beautiful may happen and that without trouble. Landing at Fort Dodge, Iowa, to dedicate a noble church with a chime of bells of rare melody, set by a widowed heart in memory of her husband who had been a public man, whose voice had had an orchestral music in it and had spoken through years for all right things, mine adversary who met me at the station said, in a sly way, that if I could spare a few minutes, he would motor me to an apple orchard of one hundred eighty-six acres. My reply, in equal courtesy, was that though my time was of great value, I being a man of affairs, I thought I could take a very few minutes off to go to the orchard in bloom. These diplomatic preliminaries having gotten on satisfactorily to both participants therein, we took a rush for the orchard. He said it was in bloom. He told the truth. We rushed through the beautiful city: we spied the happy children with laps full, arms full, hearts full of wild flowers, fresh plucked from the dear woodland ways. We cruised along a stream, then crossed it: we bounded up the hill, and looked down on a pool of wild crabs, eagering to be at flower. The motor sniffed the apple breath and hurried up and we turned from the main road with a whir and went laughing up a lane amidst all sorts of kindly trees, promiscuously planted and jostling each other as if God had planted them; and apple trees crowd up close as if inquisitive to see the faces of these callers and the master of the motor, as he steered us lightly, to a query of mine, "Does this man know how beautiful this is?" rejoined, "He is something of a poet, in a way." Ah, yes, something of a poet in a way, in God's way, I found him.
His house was well back from the road. The road could not see his house nor could his house see the road. It was embowered in quiet and the hush of happy winds and bees drooning, and trees crowded together in a veritable city of music. We might have been in Edmund Spenser's Faerie Land where all things mystical and dreamful could happen effortlessly as a starrise. We are intruders on a poet's premises. I watched to see him. Honestly, I am curious, though no woman am I, yet curiosity always seizes me when I am in a neighborhood of poetry. I want to guess the looks of poets and rectify my conclusions by facing the facts. We ran up a ravine intruded on by the inquisitive apple trees which came close to peer at us like kindly cattle in a pasture, and took by surprise a white cottage embowered in many trees of many species and then the road dropped into a half-ravine where a crystal spring lay unwrinkled beneath willows, common and laurel-leaved, and it dreamed back from its face willows and sky while a runnel which did not whisper slipped down to a stream hard by. On the banks our poet farmer had planted pine and many willows and a cut-leafed birch, beautiful enough to have adorned the woodlands of paradise. I was nosing around for the poet-farmer.
His trees and vines had been disposed with much poet lore of place and variety on a bank which lifted its broadly rounded shoulder and looked over a generous expanse of river and bridge and highway and opposing acclivity and croft where distant vistas of apple trees shone like dashes of sea foam on ocean rocks. In my mind's eye I could see our farmer friend in quiet love of loveliness with spade in hand and little trees for the planting lying close at hand, and he planting and planting and digging and planting.
Can there be greater fun or greater poetry than planting trees and having their to-morrows of bloom and fruit haunt you with their prophecy? The thrust of the spade in the sod, the tossing out of the damp earth, with eternal harvest promise in its breath and its residuum of all earth's yesterdays and also the kindly promise of its many to-morrows, and then when the hole is deep enough and wide enough and the ground within mellow enough to put your hands in it and mix the soil (cool and sweet the soil is, and clings like a curl about the fingers), and then with ample gentleness to dispose the roots and rootlets of the tree-to-be but shrub that is, and sift earth about those thready roots and cover them up very gently, as you would a grave in which lay a dead robin redbreast; then when all the babying process is concluded to press the moist earth with your foot until you surmise the roots are bedded and feel at home, and so, rising, do the like with another tree. That's fun. Men want pay for doing it, but 'tis infamous. They should pay for the privilege of doing this poetical thing. An orchardist should not plant too many trees at once lest the labor tax the poetry in him and he do a lovely thing in an unlovely mood. I would plant a few at a time and vary the kind I planted —here a lilac, here a dogwood, here a wild crab, now a sycamore, now a hazelnut, now a white willow, here a Niobe willow, here a cot ton wood, here a wild rose, now a Dorothy Perkins, then a bittersweet, now a red bud, now a fruit tree for fruit, now fruit trees by clumps for spring flowers and autumnal leaf-glory (say, a group of pear trees which when autumn burns is memorable and their watch fires have a strange glory on them), here a clump of cedars, here a stray pine, then a birch, and here sassafras for autumn splendor like summer in conflagration, here a wild rose, now an aster, here a trillium, now a rosa rugosa to give single rose blossom all the summer through. What a degradation not to know that all this is a liberal culture if done in the spirit of the Master of the Garden and the Wild wood.
Would all the farmers were poets! How goodly would their sweet vocations seem as well as how wholesome; and a refined ecstasy would run along their veins through all the months which constitute the year. Not to perceive the fun and poetry of farming is to rob the soul; and not to know the poetry of agriculture is a misdemeanor of unusual proportions. Woe is me if poetry slips from my vocabulary when I plant and sow and fain would reap. It is as delicious to see trees of your own hand-planting grow as to swim in a crystal stream under pine shadows. To work with a grim utility makes people old before their time; while to know each morning is a pageant and each night's arrival a beatitude, redeems labor from drudgery and turns farming into an aesthetic procedure like carving a Milo's Venus.
Meantime I am in the apple orchard and digressing, though I make no apologies, seeing digressions are the worth-whiles on the Pipes of Pan. I am hunting for the poet who planted this orchard and these other unfruitful trees which bear the pleasant apples of far Hesperides, for though we eat not this fruit, we none the less know full well it is an edible to the soul. "Where is the poet-farmer?" inquire I of the questful mood. Whereupon the guide of the apple orchard in bloom bids me be patient and we shall find him somewhere in the happy miles of orchard. So on we move in quest of the poet who planted this farm to perfect flower and promissory fruit. We come on him at a turn in the road.
He is ideal and satisfies my soul. He is unshaven for a spell and his face is husky as no smooth-shaven face ever does look. We men look polite when smoothly shaven, but not neglectful enough to be part of the growing world. Closely trimmed lawns are neither rational nor aesthetic. They have lost spontaneity. They are only well-bred and conventional. Grass grown by those who know how will be let alone; so must trees and whiskers. And a man cleanshaven each morning and talcumed looks polite enough but lacks patent power and the indefatigably robust, nor could he be pictured as a cowboy on the run nor a victorious soldier on the battle front. Our friend was unkempt enough to be a part of nature where things get their way and caper a little rather than go by dancing master's rules. His hair and mustache were grizzled. This poet had been on this ground a good while, as testify the vines and shrubs and orchard he had planted and the snow flakes that refuse to melt from his pow and the lines that zigzagged like genial lightning along his looks. He was in his shirt sleeves. Of course! Could a man be a poet-farmer and go around in his coat all the while? Preposterous! Say that word again, and say it louder. Adam never wore a coat. He went around with his shirt sleeves rolled up every day of his redolent year, sown to musk odors and dew-drench of the night and dawn. You don't look like business with a trim coat on when you're going about poetastering in a paradise. You look like a clothing merchant, which won't do for an outof-doors poet. Nay, verily. More nay verilies. To be sure, he wore no cuffs. You can't cuff your way to the proprietorship of multimiles of odorous orchard blooms.
His hands were naked and dirty with the dirt in which trees root—good clean, undirty dirt, loved by all flowers, trailing arbutus, fuchsias, May apples, Solomon's seals, prairie phlox, flowerless fronds of ferns, and wistful wild violets—that good dirt was on his hands; and his hands were brawny and masterful. When I shook hands with him I knew a man was owner of that right hand, hard at the palm, sinewy of fingers, dignified of labor, coworker with the ground and the sky, and the God of both to make the world beautiful in its season. It was a handsome hand, which if interpreted to mean "some hand," the exegesis would be legitimate. It would be ridiculous even to think of that brawny, business hand wearing white kid gloves. Honestly, that would make a mummy laugh. White kid gloves on these hands! Positively, that is past jest; that is insult. This man in evening clothes? Cease such suggestions, lest the poet-farmer and I both grow angry and throw you from these premises, landing you where you belong in the rubbish heap for the spring freshets to wash away. We are shaking hands, the poet-farmer and I. And his hat is a work of art. It is a high art, seeing it is at the top of this man. There is where a hat should stay. It was a derby which was a psychological blunder as well as a caput-almistake, but I think it had been bought by his wife or hired man at a bargain sale; for I would exonerate him from having chosen it. This should have been a soft hat. That settles on your head and to it like suds about your hands at the washing. You can sit on it and not indent it. You can wad it up and throw it at a mule and not disfigure the mule much nor your hat any. This hat was, so to say, homogeneous, if at times a little incoherent, incoherency caught, I think, from the brain of the wearer. This orchard hat was a derby, but an old one. Thank goodness! Age will dignify even a derby hat, on which I remark that after that, no wonderwork may be thought impossible to age. There was an indentation on one side thereof as if an apple tree in a storm had blown against it. The hat had an inebriated look as if the smell of the apple-bloom breath had made it tipsy. It sat akimbo on the poet's head, as if born out under the trees, in a wind-blown fashion like a windturned leaf. The hat had a weather-beaten, sunburnt look as if it could have voted and sat like a small boy on a gate post when a circus invades the town.
The orchardist wore shoes. That was a tribute to civilization. He should have worn sandals or, which was better, should have gone barefoot. Unquestionably, barefootedness is the right footgear for a farmer; and besides, it minds us of how among Maeterlinck's happinesses in "The Blue-Bird" there troops "the happiness of going barefoot in the dew." I feel the grass tickling my legs right now! So, I met the master of these florescent revels, this farmer-Prospero who has covered up all this orchard and runnel bank and comb and long reach with a white foam of an ocean far-spreading to the sky, an ocean of precious apple-bloom. Howbeit, not as at the wave of good man Shakespeare's bearded Prospero, but at the dig of this Prospero's spade and hoe has this ocean been turned into a turbulence of storm so that the green waves are all one wild wallow of foam, white to the eyes as sea gull's wings. The old Greeks yclept the poet "Poietes," a maker. Wherefore by my halidome (from Captain Dalgetty and others whose names slip me now) and in good sooth, this friend of my recent making is squarely and irrefutably a poet, for has he not made this orchard? Incidentally, God helped him, though of what other poet is that not true? Poets make not themselves, else all professors of literature would be poets, whereas none of them are. They pull poetry to pieces and tell how had they written it, it would have been written, but forget to remark that in such case people had not read it. I read how many changes should have been made in Milton's unapproachable music of "Paradise Lost," and then regard gleefully the consideration that as Milton made the poem, so it stands. The critical mutterings do not disturb the everlasting calm of that illustrious poem.
Yes, this orchard-maker is poet when we allow the old Greek notion concerning poetry. I found the orchardist genial. He would go with us through his land of wonder, though we forbade him in the name of the value of his time. He felt conditioned to do as he pleased on his own premises and heeded not our prattlings, but went with us. It was like walking with Alfred Tennyson or him of the "Marshes of Glynn." How he loved it all! To hear him talk of the growing of the orchard was like hearing Tennyson's ocean voice read "Ulysses." At least so I think. He knew the birthdays of the willows at the stream-head and of the pine trees on the shoulder of the hill that looked down on the winding river and the birthday of the vines which tangled over the hackberry trees, wild vagrants of the sky, and the birthday of the apple trees which marshaled the landscape we behold like white clouds billowing. He had rocked every cradle of every tree in this wide wandering land of foamy loveliness. I could all but hear the lullabies he sang them with his man's sturdy voice hushed till it crooned like an autumn wind.
The orchard was now untouched of the plow, paved with bluegrass. Not a weed intruded on the scene, only flashing green of grass, than which the high God has made no growing thing more witchery-crowded. To walk on floor of green with amethyst skies sweet above, Heigh O the wind and the rain! Along the green paths of apple bloom, as if they had fallen from the wet hand of a rainy wind, lay apple branches dead, and wistful to be given one last laughter of an apple tree fire. My fingers itched to gather the dead scattered branches, for whether it be sea-soaked driftwood of ships of yesterday or hickory wood or pine knots and branches high up in the mountains, I am of the mood to believe that none of them surpass apple trees for poetry of flame. Hickory sparkles swim up the sky with crackling fairy salutations as fired from some fairy headland, minute yet delicious salvos of a fleet sailing out not to return, whereas apple trunks and boughs emit their sparkles without a syllable of voice, just aerial flamboyancy, the beading of apple blooming and apple juice with its hint of mild inebriation which ends in poetical hilarity which makes for the laughter of the angels.
I wanted to stay in those miles of apple blooms till the sun had set and the stars had risen and the moon had filled the sky with its wonderlight for which there are no words. And to have lit an apple-tree fire and to have sat beside it would have been to set a linnet's song to a lark's music. With the smoke and the efflorescent sparkles and the lovely and the exalted night and the apple-bloom breath, there would have been a joy like being sung to by angels.
And this one hundred eighty-six acres of apple trees in bloom must be experienced to be apprehended. I do not say comprehended, for that is a witless word in such a scene. Throughout its length and breadth and height (for this orchard of bloom was cubic measure and so no superficial area could compass the phrasing of it) was perfect peace of a perfect day. Perfect peace! Height was its most splendid dimension. The height led up to God.
This was no hemisphere we dwelt in, but a whole sphere. We could not see out. It was a world far-going, glad-going, so white the petals were, scarce touched by any pink at all. That was a peculiarity of the apple blossoms we beheld in this orchard to-day. 'Twas a white wonderland. It was starlight rather than dawnlight. We were shut in by apple bloom. If this appleblossom world ended, we could only surmise it. The vistas of green paths between rows of redolent flowers ended by being swallowed up by the bloom. No green road traveled through this illimitable world. End was there none to the apple blossoms. The only way out of the foam of flower was to transcend the world and take passage into the blue of the overhead.
On we went loiteringly, always loiteringly, truly. Could a body be so unmannerly as to haste in such a house of praise as this? The gladness seems like great laughter. Each tree was preempted by flowers as the magnolia whose flowers come and cover the tree completely or ever there is a dream of leaf. And every tree was like a nosegay held out in the hand of God to be worn at an angel's heart.
An auto load of women came into this sanctuary of perfumed beauty. Where is it where beauty is present that lovely women do not come seeing God has made them such lovers of beauty in everything except husbands? They seem colorblind in men. Goody! But here they were, these women younger or older according to their age (I think that is admirably put and compromises neither the women nor me), all aglow with the wonder of the glory of the apple orchard in full flower. And they wanted to cut apple branches! I think they would have done it without permission. Women have an anarchistic strain in their blood though they look so docile. But the master of the revels was here and gave them leave. They used it. It was funny to see them saw the branches with a jack-knife. But for politeness, I should have smiled. It is a grim thing to be polite. But they broke and sawed and laughed out loud in chorus and the poet orchard-master bade them be generous in their taking, and some such words to us men, and when we were too polite to mutilate his majestical bouquets of a whole tree at unanimous flower, he took his huge pruning knife and cut off young trees blossom-laden and made us bear them as his contribution to the dedicatory service of the church on the morrow.
And so thither the flowers came on that good to-morrow when the chimes rained out holy hymns, and the people sang out like the voice of many waters and I, poor slipshod that I was, in that high function, tried to preach. But the apple blossoms outpreached, outsang, outchimed us all.
When God's flowers turn minister then truly is there a saintly sermon. "Bloom ye," said the Sunday apple blossoms. "Bloom ye, ye folk of God, even as bloom we, God's apple orchard. As we, so ye, yield bloom and fruit to the glory of God the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Amen."