The REALLY Old Farmer’s Almanac

978053I recently read the Latin poet Virgil’s work The Georgics, a four-part poem about the world of rural shepherds. Pretty decent pastoral stuff, especially part I.

Still, with its emphasis on astrology, agriculture, and animal husbandry, I felt like I was reading an ancient Roman version of the Old Farmer’s Almanac.

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Yearning for Pastoral Restoration

It’s the driving force behind Thoreau’s Walden, one of my favorite books, and Yeats’s “The Lake Isle of Innisfree,” which I was just shown in an English teacher training meeting a couple of weeks ago, and which is now one of my favorite poems:

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.
 
And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.
 
I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

 

 

The poem also reminds me of Loreena McKennitt’s “Bonny Portmore,” another story of yearning for a pastoral restoration.  Is it a coincidence that both “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” and “Bonny Portmore” are Irish?  Here’s a video for the song, with an appropriate scenery and landscape montage:

 

Recommended Reading: The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame

I recently finished reading this to my younger children.  I’ve presented them with some challenging stories before, but I was outright flabbergasted at how intellectually mature this classic was.

Published in 1908, this British classic tells tales of four country friends–a rat, a mole, a badger, and (most famously) a rich, pompous, adventuresome toad.  These are no flat, stock children’s book characters.  They have enough neurotic vinegar in them to make the cast of Toy Story seem like The Waltons by comparison.  Not only do they have strikingly realistic personalities, but they behave in the ways that our grandparents did, ways that make us blush today.  They don’t hesitate to insult someone, calling a spade a spade when needed, they acknowledge violence as a normal way to deal with thugs, and differences between social classes aren’t treated at all as anything unusual–just another natural part of life. 

And yet, this world that often seems rough to our “modern sensibilities” is also markedly refined compared to most of our daily ditherings.  The Wind in the Willows is so thoroughly pastoral that it practically strives to be scripture on the subject, vying perhaps to sit next to Walden and The Boy Scout Handbook on my shelf.  One chapter, in fact, dreamily describes an episode where two lost characters in the woods encounter an ecstatic ancient spirit, whose communion is powerfully glorious.  Such seemingly pagan influences struck me as odd for a book coming from the Edwardian period, but it fits in without a ripple of real inappropriateness here, not blushing in its unabashed environmentalism. 

All this has just been prologue, though, for the thing that truly makes this masterpiece stand up and demand our attention is just how amazingly literary it is.  Continue reading