Verse > Anthologies > The World’s Best Poetry > Vol. V. Nature
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Bliss Carman, et al., eds.  The World’s Best Poetry.
Volume V. Nature.  1904.
 
III. The Seasons
The Ploughman
Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809–1894)
 
CLEAR the brown path to meet his coulter’s gleam!
Lo! on he comes, behind his smoking team,
With toil’s bright dew-drops on his sunburnt brow,
The lord of earth, the hero of the plough!
 
First in the field before the reddening sun,        5
Last in the shadows when the day is done,
Line after line, along the bursting sod,
Marks the broad acres where his feet have trod.
Still where he treads the stubborn clods divide,
The smooth, fresh furrow opens deep and wide;        10
Matted and dense the tangled turf upheaves,
Mellow and dark the ridgy cornfield cleaves;
Up the steep hillside, where the laboring train
Slants the long track that scores the level plain,
Through the moist valley, clogged with oozing clay,        15
The patient convoy breaks its destined way;
At every turn the loosening chains resound,
The swinging ploughshare circles glistening round,
Till the wide field one billowy waste appears,
And wearied hands unbind the panting steers.        20
 
These are the hands whose sturdy labor brings
The peasant’s food, the golden pomp of kings;
This is the page whose letters shall be seen,
Changed by the sun to words of living green;
This is the scholar whose immortal pen        25
Spells the first lesson hunger taught to men;
These are the lines that heaven-commanded Toil
Shows on his deed,—the charter of the soil!
 
O gracious Mother, whose benignant breast
Wakes us to life, and lulls us all to rest,        30
How thy sweet features, kind to every clime,
Mock with their smile the wrinkled front of Time!
We stain thy flowers,—they blossom o’er the dead;
We rend thy bosom, and it gives us bread;
O’er the red field that trampling strife has torn,        35
Waves the green plumage of thy tasselled corn;
Our maddening conflicts scar thy fairest plain,
Still thy soft answer is the growing grain.
Yet, O our Mother, while uncounted charms
Steal round our hearts in thine embracing arms,        40
Let not our virtues in thy love decay,
And thy fond sweetness waste our strength away.
 
No, by these hills whose banners now displayed
In blazing cohorts Autumn has arrayed;
By yon twin summits, on whose splintery crests        45
The tossing hemlocks hold the eagles’ nests;
By these fair plains the mountain circle screens,
And feeds with streamlets from its dark ravines,—
True to their home, these faithful arms shall toil
To crown with peace their own untainted soil;        50
And, true to God, to freedom, to mankind,
If her chained ban-dogs Faction shall unbind,
These stately forms, that, bending even now,
Bowed their strong manhood to the humble plough,
Shall rise erect, the guardians of the land,        55
The same stern iron in the same right hand,
Till o’er their hills the shouts of triumph run,—
The sword has rescued what the ploughshare won!
 
 
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