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Build Soil

Build Soil:  a Political Pastoral 

Why Tityrus! But you've forgotten me. 
I’m Meliboeus the potato man, 
The one you had the talk with, you remember, 
Here on this very campus years ago. 
Hard times have struck me and I'm on the move. 
I’ve had to give my interval farm up 
For interest, and I've bought a mountain farm 
For nothing down, all-out-doors of a place, 
All woods and pasture only fit for sheep. 
But sheep is what I’m going into next. 
I’m done forever with potato crops 
At thirty cents a bushel. Give me sheep. 
I know wool's down to seven cents a pound. 
But I don't calculate to sell my wool. 
I didn't my potatoes. I consumed them. 
I’ll dress up in sheep's clothing and eat sheep. 
The Muse takes care of you. You live by writing 
Your poems on a farm and call that farming. 
Oh I don't blame you. I say take life easy. 
I should myself, only I don't know how. 
But have some pity on us who have to work. 
Why don't you use your talents as a writer 
To advertise our farms to city buyers, 
Or else write something to improve food prices. 
Get in a poem toward the next election. 
Oh Meliboeus, I have half a mind 
To take a writing hand in politics. 
Before now poetry has taken notice 
Of wars, and what are wars but politics 
Transformed from chronic to acute and bloody? 
I may be wrong, but Tityrus to me 
The times seem revolutionary bad. 

The question is whether they've reached a depth 
Of desperation that would warrant poetry's 
Leaving love's alternations, joy and grief, 
The weather's alternations, summer and winter, 
Our age-long theme, for the uncertainty 
Of judging who is a contemporary liar 
Who in particular, when all alike 
Get called as much in clashes of ambition. 
Life may be tragically bad, and I 
Make bold to sing it so, but do I dare 
Name names and tell you who by name is wicked? 
Whittier's luck with Skipper Ireson awes me. 
Many men's luck with Greatest Washington 
(Who sat for Stuart's portrait, but who sat 
Equally for the nation's Constitution). 
I prefer to sing safely in the realm 
Of types, composite and imagined people: 
To affirm there is such a thing as evil 
Personified, but ask to be excused 
From saying on a jury here's the guilty. 
I doubt it you're convinced the times are bad. 
I keep my eye on Congress, Meliboeus. 
They're in the best position of us all 
To know if anything is very wrong. 
1 mean they could be trusted to give the alarm 
If earth were thought about to change its axis, 
Or a star coming to dilate the sun. 
As long as lightly all their live-long sessions, 
Like a yard full of school boys out at recess 
Before their plays and games were organized, 
They yelling mix tag, hide-and-seek, hop-scotch, 
And leap frog in each other's way, all's well. 
Let newspapers profess to fear the worst! 
Nothing's portentous, I am reassured. 

Is socialism needed, do you think? 

We have it now. For socialism is 
An clement in any government. 
There's no such thing as socialism pure 
Except as an abstraction of the mind. 
There's only democratic socialism 
Monarchic socialism oligarchic, 
The last being what they seem to have in Russia. 
You often get it most in monarchy, 
Least in democracy. In practice, pure, 
I don't know what it would be. No one knows. 
I have no doubt like all the loves when 
Philosophized together into one- 
One sickness of the body and the soul. 
Thank God our practice holds the loves apart 
Beyond embarrassing self-consciousness 
Where natural friends are met, where dogs are kept, 
Where women pray with priests. There is no love. 
There's only love of men and women, love 
Of children, love of friends, of men, of God, 
Divine love, human love, parental love, 
Roughly discriminated for the rough. 

Poetry, itself once more, is back in love. 

Pardon the analogy, my Meliboeus, 
For sweeping me away. Let's see, where was I? 
But don't you think more should be socialized 
Than is? 
What should you mean by socialized? 

Made good for everyone things like inventions- 
Made so we all should get the good of them 
All, not just great exploiting businesses. 

We sometimes only get the bad of them. 
In your sense of the word ambition has 
Been socialized the first propensity 
To be attempted. Greed may well come next. 
But the worst one of all to leave uncurbed, 
Unsocialized, is ingenuity: 
Which for no sordid self-aggrandizement, 
For nothing but its own blind satisfaction 
(In this it is as much like hate as love) 
Works in the dark as much against as for us. 
Even while we talk some chemist at Columbia 
Is stealthily contriving wool from jute 
That when let loose upon the grazing world 
Will put ten thousand farmers out of sheep. 
Everyone asks for freedom for himself, 
The man free love, the business man free trade, 
The writer and talker free speech and free press. 
Political ambition has been taught, 
By being punished back, it is not free: 
It must at some point gracefully refrain. 
Greed has been taught a little abnegation 
And shall be more before we're done with it. 
It is just fool enough to think itself 
Self-taught. But our brute snarling and lashing taught it. 
None shall be as ambitious as he can. 
None should be as ingenious as he could, 
Not if I had my say. Bounds should be set 
To ingenuity for being so cruel 
In bringing change unheralded on the unready, 

I elect you to put the curb on it. 

Were I dictator, I'll tell you what I’d do. 

What should you do? 
I’d let things take their course 
And then I’d claim the credit for the outcome. 

You'd make a sort of safety-first dictator. 

Don't let the things I say against myself 
Betray you into taking sides against me, 
Or it might get you into trouble with me. 
I’m not afraid to prophesy the future, 
And be judged by the outcome, Meliboeus. 
Listen and I will take my dearest risk. 
We're always too much out or too much in. 
At present from a cosmical dilation 
We're so much out that the odds are against 
Our ever getting inside in again. 
But inside in is where we've got to get. 
My friends all know I’m interpersonal. 
But long before I’m interpersonal 
Away 'way down inside I’m personal. 
Just so before we're international 
We're national and act as nationals. 
The colors are kept unmixed on the palette, 
Or better on dish plates all around the room, 

So the effect when they are mixed on canvas 
May seem almost exclusively designed. 
Some minds are so confounded intermental 
They remind me of pictures on a palette: 
'Look at what happened. Surely some God pinxit. 
Come look at my significant mud pie.' 
It's hard to tell which is the worse abhorrence 
Whether it's persons pied or nations pied. 

Don't let me seem to say the exchange, the encounter, 
May not be the important thing at last. 
It well may be. We meet I don't say when 
But must bring to the meeting the maturest, 
The longest-saved-up, raciest, localest 
We have strength of reserve in us to bring. 

Tityrus, sometimes I'm perplexed myself 
To find the good of commerce. Why should I 
Have to sell you my apples and buy yours? 
It can't be just to give the robber a chance 
To catch them and take toll of them in transit. 
Too mean a thought to get much comfort out of. 
I figure that like any bandying 
Of words or toys, it ministers to health. 
It very likely quickens and refines us. 

To market 'tis our destiny to go. 
But much as in the end we bring for sale there 
There is still more we never bring or should bring; 
More that should be kept back the soil for instance 
In my opinion, though we both know poets 
Who fall all over each other to bring soil 
And even subsoil and hardpan to market. 
To sell the hay off, let alone the soil, 
Is an unpardonable sin in farming. 
The moral is, make a late start to market. 
Let me preach to you, will you Meliboeus? 
Preach on. I thought you were already preaching. 
But preach and see if I can tell the difference. 
Needless to say to you, my argument 
Is not to lure the city to the country. 
Let those possess the land and only those, 
Who love it with a love so strong and stupid 
That they may be abused and taken advantage of 
And made fun of by business, law and art; 
They still hang on. That so much of the earth's 
Unoccupied need not make us uneasy. 
We don't pretend to complete occupancy. 
The world's one globe, human society 
Another softer globe that slightly flattened 
Rests on the world, and clinging slowly rolls. 
We have our own round shape to keep unbroken. 
The world's size has no more to do with us 
Than has the universe's. We are balls, 
We are round from the same source of roundness. 
We are both round because the mind is round, 
Because all reasoning is in a circle. 
At least that's why the universe is round. 

If what you're preaching is a line of conduct, 
Just what am I supposed to do about it? 
Reason in circles? 

No, refuse to be 
Seduced back to the land by any claim 
The land may seem to have on man to use it. 
Let none assume to till the land but farmers. 
I only speak to you as one of them. 
You shall go to your run-out mountain farm, 
Poor cast-away of commerce, and so live 
That none shall ever see you come to market- 
Not for a long long time. Plant, breed, produce, 
But what you raise or grow, why feed it out, 
Eat it or plow it under where it stands 
To build the soil. For what is more accursed 
Than an impoverished soil pale and metallic? 
What cries more to our kind for sympathy? 
I'll make a compact with you, Meliboeus, 
To match you deed for deed and plan for plan. 
Friends crowd around me with their five year plans 
That Soviet Russia has made fashionable. 
You come to me and I'll unfold to you 
A five year plan I call so, not because 
It takes ten years or so to carry out, 
Rather because it took five years at least 
To think it out. Come close, let us conspire- 
In self-restraint, if in restraint of trade. 
You will go to your run-out mountain farm 
And do what I command you, I take care 
To command only what you meant to do 
Anyway. That is my style of dictator. 
Build soil. Turn the farm in upon itself 
Until it can contain itself no more, 
But sweating-full, drips wine and oil a little. 
I will go to my run-out social mind 
And be as unsocial with it as I can. 
The thought I have, and my first impulse is 
To take to market— I will turn it under. 
The thought from that thought—I will turn it under 
And so on to the limit of my nature. 
We are too much out, and if we won't draw in 
We shall be driven in. I was brought up 
A state-rights free-trade Democrat. What's that ? 
An inconsistency. The state shall be 
Laws to itself, it seems, and yet have no 
Control of what it sells or what it buys. 
Suppose someone comes near me who in rate 
Of speech and thinking is so much my better 
I am imposed on, silenced and discouraged. 
Do I submit to being supplied by him 
As the more economical producer, 
More wonderful, more beautiful producer? 
No. I unostentatiously move off 
Far enough for my thought-flow to resume. 
Thought product and food product are to me 
Nothing compared to the producing of them 
I sent you once a song with the refrain: 

Let me be the one 
To do what is done 

My share at least lest I be empty-idle. 
Keep off each other and keep each other off. 
You see the beauty of my proposal is 
It needn't wait on general revolution. 
I bid you to a one-man revolution 
The only revolution that is coming. 
We're too unseparate out among each other 
With goods to sell and notions to impart. 

A youngster comes to me with half a quatrain 
To ask me if I think it worth the pains 
Of working out the rest, the other half. 
I am brought guaranteed young prattle poems 
Made publicly in school, above suspicion 
Of plagiarism and help of cheating parents. 
We congregate embracing from distrust 
As much as love, and too close in to strike 
And be so very striking. Steal away 
The song says. Steal away and stay away. 
Don't join too many gangs. Join few if any. 
Join the United States and join the family 
But not much in between unless a college. 
Is it a bargain, Shepherd Meliboeus? 

Probably but you're far too fast and strong 
For my mind to keep working in your presence. 
I can tell better after I get home, 
Better a month from now when cutting posts 
Or mending fence it all comes back to me 
What I was thinking when you interrupted 
My life-train logic. I agree with you 
We're too unseparate. And going home 
From company means coming to our senses.