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The clouds look low and heavy, as if there would be rain;
A Farmer's Sorrow.
Sarah Orne Jewett
It always means bad weather when you hear the brook so plain.
The wet won't make much trouble now, for all the crops are in,
And yet I somehow hate to see the long fall rains begin.
I couldn't sense the half I read, the air is close and still,
If I were young as once I was, I'd go up on the hill.
It isn't as it used to be when I could come and go,
And keep upon my feet all day, now I am stiff and slow.
There's nothin' in the paper; you can take it if you choose;
I can't make head nor tail of half they nowadays call news.
I use to think the Farmer* was head of all the rest;
'Twas full of solid common sense; I tell you that's the best!
What does a plain, old-fashioned man care whether stocks go down?
My stock is all four-footed! - but 'twill please the folks in town.
Here's new machines preached every week, to help the folks that sell;
And fashions for the women folks, and other trash as well.
'Twas readin' all this nonsense here, in winter by the fire,
That made my boy get notions of the schools and climbin' higher.
It used to be so snug and warm a stormy winter's night,
With snow-clicks at the windows, and the roarin' fire for light.
But there he set, all doubled up, a-storin' this away:
Readin' and readin' till I said 'twas more like toil than play;
Readin' and readin' till I found he couldn't work a stroke,
And couldn't hold the plough an hour, or hardly lift a yoke.
It stole his mind from farmin', and he run up tall and thin:
I fought him hard enough at first, but afterward gave in.
They got the minister to come, his mother took his part,
Until I let them have their way, although it broke my heart.
'Twas well enough for them to talk, and I wan't going to fight;
And then my mind got so distressed, I couldn't sleep at night.
Folks talk of edication as if the Latin showed
A farmer how to cast accounts or how to stack a load.
But, as I say, I had to cope with mother and with Dan,
And then they got the minister, a good, well-meanin' man.
And Dan, he said, must have his chance, and pretty soon I see
The book fools and the women folks would be too much for me.
So Dan he got his schoolin', and never no complaint;
When I give in I don't take back, but 'twould have tried a saint!
I never knew the crops to fail as fail they did those years,
Or money be so hard to get, and I was full of fears.
I never grumbled at his bills, but paid them one by one;
And when the boy came home again with all his schoolin' done,
I couldn't ask him out a-field or let him do a stroke,
He looked just a white-skinned birch, and I felt like an oak.
But that was twenty year ago, and here we be to-day,
And I've got old and stiff, you see, and what was once like play
I have to hire strange folks to do, or else must let alone -
Silas is willin', wants to work, but he's a boy half-grown.
Now, he's the kind of lad I like; his cheeks look bright and warm;
If I could have my may, I know, I'd let him have the farm.
Although he's but a cousin's son, he does seem near to me -
Yes, nearer, I must say it straight - than Dan could ever be.
Dan's a professor, and they say he knows as much as most -
But he don't know, and never will how much his learnin' cost.
'Twas him that should have had the place; 'twas father's 'fore 'twas mine.
I'd like to kep' it in the name; but I ain't goin' to whine.
Mother she's had it pretty hard; we needed Dan, that's true;
And I would keep him right at home if I began life new.
Farmin's the honest work of men; if other folks must thrive,
Some of us ought to stay at home and keep the farms alive.
Dan's kind of disappointed - he sees he ain't the first;
There wan't the makings of the best, and yet he ain't the worst.
They call him a good scholar; but there's much he's learned in vain,
If he don't think he'd farm it, if he could start again.
"A Farmer's Sorrow" appeared in The Manhattan Magazine (3:212-3) in March 1884. This text is from that publication. If you find errors in this text or items you believe should be annotated, please contact the site manager.
the Farmer: Frank Luther Mott in A History of American Magazines (New York: Appleton, 1930), discusses a number of agricultural magazines to which the speaker of this poem might refer. The American Farmer (with several variations of title) published from 1819 until 1893. Thomas Green Fessenden's The New England Farmer may best fit the description in this poem, because it included poetry and other materials that treated subjects in addition to agriculture; however its publication series (1822-1846) ends somewhat early for this poem, which seems likely to deal with the period after the American Civil War. Another likely candidate is the successor to Fessenden's magazine, also named The New England Farmer (1848-1870).
Edited and annotated by Terry Heller, Coe College.
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