American Poetry 1922/Peasant


It's the mixture of peasantry
    makes him so slow.
He waggles his head
    before he speaks,
like a cow
    before she crops.
He bends to the habit
    of dragging his feet
    up under him,
like a measuring-worm:
    some of his forefathers,
    stooped over books,
    ruled short straight lines
    under two rows of figures
    to keep their thin savings
    from sifting to the floor.
Should you strike him
    with a question,
he will blink twice or thrice
    and roll his head about,
like an owl
    in the pin-pricks
    of a dawn he cannot see.
There is mighty little flesh
    about his bones,
there is no gusto
    in his stride:
he seems to wait

    for the blow on the buttocks
    that will drive him
    another step forward—
    step forward to what?
There is no land,
    no house,
    no barn,
he has ever owned;
he sits uncomfortable
    on chairs
    you might invite him to:
if you did,
    he'd keep his hat in hand
    against the moment
    when some silent pause
    for which he hearkens
    with his ear to one side
    bids him move on—
    move on where?
It doesn't matter.
He has learned
    to shrug his shoulders,
    so he'll shrug his shoulders now:
caterpillars do it
    when they're halted by a stick.
Is there a sky overhead?—
    a hope worth flying to?—
birds may know about it,
    but it's birds
    that birds descend from.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1928.

The longest-living author of this work died in 1966, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 56 years or less. This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.