Holding Fast

A brown horse with a white stripe down the center of its face walks towards the camera through a pile of autumn leaves

Earth moves through space at what we estimate to be sixty-six thousand miles an hour. Sixty- six thousand miles. Per hour. Merwin wrote “we are all here together without knowing it flying at a speed beyond thinking.”

Flying at a speed beyond thinking, we hold fast to this farm, with every bit of every kind of strength we have. Physical, emotional, spiritual. Every strength we have. Our bodies tire, we laugh and cry, we believe in something we cannot see. Sometimes we soar on confidence in what we’re doing. Sometimes we wonder what might happen when all the strength we have is not strength enough. Most of the time we’re somewhere in between. It is all but inarticulable. The poet Jane Kenyon cited Keats when describing the place to which she and the poet Donald Hall held fast, Hall’s family farm in Wilmot, New Hampshire. “This,” she told Bill Moyers, “Is the vale of soul-making.”

“Writing again?”
“Ya, that okay?”
“No, ya, fine with me, just see you there typing so I asked. Not gonna quote me again are you?”
“Quote you?”
“Ya, last time you quoted me, when I complained about people hating their jobs.”
“Oh, yes, I did, but no, I’m not quoting you.”
“What’s this one about?”
“The farm being a vale of soul-making.”
“A vale of soul-making?”
“Like what a widow looks through?”
“No, that’s V-E-I-L. This is V-A-L-E, a place, as in valley. It’s from Keats.”

Referring to Eagle Pond Farm, Kenyon said of she and Hall “This place has made us both considerably different people.” She spoke of community, of mountains and hills, of a wonderment it all instilled. That farm, where Hall spent youthful summers and would later return to in life and literature, became central to Kenyon’s work as well. When Keats wrote of the vale of soul-making, he was writing of life as a place of formative experiences. The place where a person’s spirit is shaped. On this farm, we are shaped by the touch of grace and the weight of responsibility. Inarticulable.

“Computer work?”
“No, writing.”
“Oh, sorry, I didn’t mean to bother you.”
“It’s not a bother, you’re never bothering me, what’s up?”
“I just wanted to tell you I moved that big rock for Aiofe’s grave.”
“By yourself?”
“Yes, by myself. I looked at it and had an idea how to do it. Once I got it up on its end it wasn’t that hard.”
“Wow, good work.”
“It’s at her grave now, we’re going to get some more rocks to make a bench.”
“That sounds great.”

A farm is no different from any other work place. But it is. Because it’s not, a work place. It is something more, some amalgam of life and work. Hall writes of this. In Life Work, he recounts asking the sculptor Henry Moore, then eighty years old, what was the secret of life. Moore was quick to answer. “The secret of life is to have a task, something you devote your entire life to, something you bring everything to, every minute of the day for your whole life. And the most important thing is – it must be something you cannot possibly do!” That, is a farm.

“Mind my asking what it’s about?”
“No. The farm.”
“It’s amazing. I hope you know that. Everything here.”
“Percy Bysshe Shelley. It keeps coming to mind, I try to push it back, think of Moore’s secret of life, but ‘Ozymandias’ keeps creeping in.”
“I don’t know what you’re taking about.”

Keats was spiritual. Kenyon too. Keats wrote of the trials and troubles, the pains and sorrows that make the soul. Kenyon wrote of accepting those as part of something more. “Yes,” she said, speaking to Moyers, “There are things in this life that are all but unendurable, and yet I feel that there is a great goodness. Why, when there could have been nothing, is there something? This is a great mystery. How, when there could have been nothing, does it happen that there is love, kindness, beauty?” These are on the farm, everywhere. So are pain and sorrow.

“Hey, I heard you’re writing about Shelley, I know who he was!”
“Ya, he wrote Frankenstein!”
“No, that was his wife. Mary. Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein.”
“A woman wrote Frankenstein?”
“Yes, but I’m not writing about her, or him, just one of his poems is stuck in my head.”

It is hard to hold fast to an impossible task while pondering the stone visage of a great king lying shattered in pieces half sunk in wind-swept desert sand. But look past Shelley’s Ozymandias, to Donald Hall’s Roger, Mackerel, Riley and Ned. “For a hundred and fifty years, in the pasture of dead horses, roots of pine trees pushed through the pale curves of your ribs, yellow blossoms flourished above you in autumn, and in winter frost heaved your bones in the ground – old toilers, soil makers.” Old toilers. Soil makers. If nothing beside remains, there will be that, and for us, on this farm, that will be enough.

“Still writing?”
“Yes what’s up?”
“Taking a break, it’s hot. What are you reading there?”
“Jane Kenyon’s ‘Let Evening Come’. ‘Let dew collect on the hoe abandoned in long grass. Let the stars appear and the moon disclose her silver horn. Let evening come.’”
“Oh ya, let me find whoever left the hoe in the grass. You ever run one over when you’re mowing?”
“No, I haven’t. Good quote though.”