(Photo by Ian Livesey)
The farmer deep in thought
is pacing through the rain
among his black fields, with
hands in pockets,
in his head
the harvest already planted.
A cold wind ruffles the water
among the browned weeds.
On all sides
the world rolls coldly away:
darkened by the March clouds-
leaving room for thought.
Down past the brushwood
the rainsluiced wagonroad
looms the artist figure of
the farmer – composing
There are so many things wonderful about this poem. In no systematic form are some observations:
The portrait: The portrait is remarkably well-drawn. Notice the farmer is shown in silhouette: we see his posture, but we have no description of his personal features. We don’t know the color of his clothes, his eyes, his hair, et cetera.
But the world has colors: browned weeds, black orchards, darkened.
We see the world around the farmer in fine details the wind ruffles the water, there are March clouds, the road is “rainsluiced”. But there are other aspects which are missing from the description.
The parties: The poem ends with the word “antagonist”. The farmer is plotting his attack upon this deranged world by putting it in order and planting his harvest. The farmer is also an artist, who has a vision of beauty which he is going to wrought in the world.
The world is cold, forbidding and filled with death: even the orchards are “black”. The world is one of chaos, and the farmer is going to overcome the chaos and make a thing of use and order.
There is an interesting aside, “the world rolls by … leaving room for thought”. To the farmer, the chaos is an opportunity for order. He sees his harvest and nothing has yet been planted.
The combination of artist and antagonist may be an echo of Genesis 1. The world having come into existence is still without order, “The world was without form and void and darkness was upon the face of the deep.” But God overcome the disorder as both antagonist and artist. The farmer here does the same thing.
In fact, God plants a garden and places the first human beings in that garden. The farmer here is planning on planting a garden and obtaining a harvest himself.
I cannot say that Williams is explicitly thinking of Genesis here. There are no unambiguous allusions to the English text of Genesis. But the form is here.
So the question: is it proper to make a connection or consider the comparison where the author has not necessarily forced the connection between the two? Yes.
Here are some reasons: First, a comparison between any two things has the potential for providing information about both. A comparison may lead one to realize a connection which was not previously apparent. Whenever come to some-thing or some-one, we are making comparisons with other similar things or ones we already know. We understand the thing we are looking at by comparing it to our previous knowledge.
Thus, making a purposeful comparison may help us to see something which was already there but not previously noticed.
Second, there are certain forms of thought which seem to be inherent in human beings. The Golden Bough is an mountain of cultural comparisons of forms from many cultures and times. There are certain ideas which just seem to make sense to us people.
That store of common forms is even greater within a culture. The ideas of Genesis would likely be familiar to Williams merely by living in his world at that time. Biblical references would be commonplace. For example, in Tom Sawyer, Mark Twain makes a memorable joke based upon Tom’s lack of Biblical knowledge, but Twain’s counting on the reader knowing the facts immediately and without explanation.
There are myriad of details about the poem which deserves consider, such as three prepositional phrases built around “in” at the beginning of the poem: the farmer is in thought, his hands are in his pocket, his harvest is in his head.
Compare that to his pacing in his black fields – where he is thinking and the black orchards leave room for thought.
The structure of the poem is a marvel.
A final observation: Williams is an artist who is composing a portrait of the farmer. The farmer is an artist who is composing a portrait of a harvest. Williams takes all of the unorganized, but very present details of the scene (there is a man walking on a blustery March day) and turns this into ordered art.