The Village Blacksmith’s Sorry Seed

The public schools taught my children no poetry apart from a few stanzas of Emma Lazarus and Mia Angleo, along with a lewd limerick about the menstrual cycle or the water cycle, or maybe it was recycling . . . In any case, the ever-increasing poetic nescience of Americans makes poetic parody hard.  I’m not blaming you.  It’s not your fault if no one suggested you read Longfellow’s “Village Blacksmith” and instead gave you a copy of To Shill a Mockingbird. The Orthosphere exists to rectify this and other aspects of our universal miseducation.

Under a cankered chestnut tree 
The smithy’s seed now stands; 
This Smith, a scrawny man is he, 
Except his typist’s hands; 
And the notions of his muddled mind 
Are shifting as the sands.

His hair is thin, and lank, and damp, 
His face is stressed and cowed; 
His brow is wet with nervous sweat, 
He earns what he’s allowed, 
And hunts in vain for a friendly face, 
In the furtive, hostile crowd. 

Week in, week out, from morn till night, 
You can hear his keyboard clatter; 
You can hear him slurp his coffee sludge, 
You can hear him fawn and flatter, 
As a man accepts a canapé, 
From a hostess on a platter. 

And children slinking home from school 
Look in his window wide; 
They fear to see their future told
In one so nullified. 
They mourn to read the prophesy, 
Of the man who types inside. 

He goes on Sunday not to church, 
But stays home with his toys; 
He hears but pundits pray and preach, 
Knows not his daughter’s voice: 
She never sang or spoke because
Her mother made The Choice.

Nor hears he yet that mother’s voice, 
Her insults, barbs and lies, 
For she left him long years ago, 
To elsewhere dogmatize; 
Yet with his typist’s hands he wipes 
A tear out of his eyes. 

Toiling,—worrying,—sorrowing, 
Onward in life he trudges; 
Each morning sees some task begin, 
Each evening it’s blots and smudges; 
Something attempted, something failed, 
In bed he broods and grudges. 

Thanks, thanks to thee, my sorry friend, 
For the lesson thou has taught! 
Thus in the easy chair of life 
We will by fate be caught; 
Thus on its cushions lulled to sleep 
And at last brough to naught.

12 thoughts on “The Village Blacksmith’s Sorry Seed

  1. A totally irrelevant comment but a friend of mine was convinced that the third line of the second verse (original version) went ‘His brow was wet with on his sweat’. Doubtless a result of the days when you learnt poetry by hearing it as much as reading it.

  2. >> As a man accepts a canapé,
    >> From a hostess on a platter.

    You have ruined canapes, finger sandwiches, petits-four, all hors d’oeuvres generally for me for all time. Now, I shall never go to a fancy party or business conclave again, for the victuals will just call to mind the fawning and flattery going on all around me.

    Oh, wait … nobody invites me to parties any more and I am retired, so it’s all good! Henry Wadsworth smiles radiantly on your gentle satire.

  3. Poetry is just below Proverbs in my mind – I suppose because the latter accomplishes more in the protection and edification of the simplest members of society. I almost never hear people say proverbs any more. Even ones that were exceedingly popular when I was a boy, like ‘give an inch and they’ll take a mile.’ or, ‘a stitch in time saves nine.’ Poetry is the higher art, however, so it does not surprise me that we lost poetry well before we lost proverbs in pop culture.

    Tangential to your post (but perhaps not,) would you be willing to write something on Diligence vs. Sloth? I love when you go into etymology and sloth is the chief sin I am trying to slay right now – so any investigation into diligence and ways to employ it would be helpful.

    • I’ve noticed this as well, even in my own children. I sang them nursery rhymes every evening and those didn’t stick stuck. Old songs, Bible verses, whatever you like. There is more than one cause of this cultural amnesia and they are all sinister.

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