“The Father himself
Willed that the path of tillage be not smooth,
And first ordained that skill should cultivate
The land, by care sharpening the wits of mortals,
Nor let his kingdom laze in torpid sloth.”
Why do things have to be so hard? Often I have wondered.
Virgil paints for us a striking image. The earth itself calls for cultivation, a labor that done with care will produce much fruit: fruit of the earth and fruit in the cultivator. To cultivate the soil with care is itself, it turns out, a way we are cultivated. How striking! As soon as I put my hand to the plow it’s as if someone is loosening the soil of my soul.
And once again cultivation of the land is a most powerful and revealing image for life itself.
Any real work—and we might think especially of the daily and seasonal work we all are called upon to do—can and should be like the cultivation of the earth. Often the path of tillage is not smooth. The rows we hoe have ridges and valleys, clumps and stones. We get frustrated; and so we tend either to become more care-less, or more care-full.
Virgil says of the husbandman that he “disciplines the acres he commands.” What a powerful image for home-life; or a life of study; or any vocation. The more care I take in my work, the more surely am I grown. The more carefully I give discipline, the more truly am I disciplined by what I do.
What does Virgil see as behind it all? He sees a Father. Ever present, ever working. Who calls us to work, and to suffer, for a reason.
The story of the challenges we face as we go about cultivating the rows in our life is the story of our being cultivated, gently but surely: by a father, who is a very deliberate and care-full husbandman.
~ ~ ~
NOTE: As spring approaches I have turned to reading Virgil’s great poem of the land, the Georgics, considered by many to be a foundational work of Western culture. I will be sharing a number of quotes from this text over the next couple of months.
Virgil (70-19 B.C.) is the great Roman poet, author of The Aeneid and The Georgics. In the Divine Comedy he appears as Dante’s guide through hell and purgatory.
Image: Leon Lhermitte (1844-1925), Plowing with Oxen. I love how the man at the plow is leaning slightly forward, intent on his work, with a steady eye on the row.