by Chet Raymo
When we first came here 41 years ago, our neighbors still cut hay with a scythe, raked it with hand-made wooden rakes, piked it into cocks. Many a hot summer day I helped, although I never mastered the scythe. To lay the grass in long clean rows with a whispering swish, swish is an art one doesn't master in a day, or a summer. Perhaps one has to be born with it. Nor was I let to hone the glistening blade, another art that's passed perhaps from father to son. Plying the rake was about the only chore they let me do, and even then my piles of hay didn't measure up to snuff. Honest work, it was, but for me the scythe whispered a defiant hiss, hiss.
I was thinking of Frost's scythe today as I mowed my own rough field. Mowed? Is that the word for what my petrol-powered strimmer was doing as it chewed noisily through the grass? It didn't whisper; it howled. And I was bundled up in harness, safety goggles and ear muffs, insulated from grass and sun and breeze. I never broke a sweat.
The sweetness of honest labor? A roaring abomination is more like it, adding my own contribution to noise pollution and global warming. But there really isn't an alternative if I'm to keep the field in trim. Too late to learn the art of the scythe. And who would teach me? In the fields below where I used to help my neighbors make summer cocks– stopping occasionally for a cup of tea in the shade of a hedge- big contracted machines now cut the grass and wrap it up in cylindrical bales of black plastic. No more "the earnest love that laid the swale in rows." No more the whispering steel...”
And that was my long scythe whispering to the ground.
What was it it whispered? I knew not well myself;
Perhaps it was something about the heat of the sun,
Something, perhaps, about the lack of sound—
And that was why it whispered and did not speak.
It was no dream of the gift of idle hours,
Or easy gold at the hand of fay or elf:
Anything more than the truth would have seemed too weak
To the earnest love that laid the swale in rows,
Not without feeble-pointed spikes of flowers
(Pale orchises), and scared a bright green snake.
The fact is the sweetest dream that labor knows.
My long scythe whispered and left the hay to make."