In the afternoon they came unto a land In which it seemed always afternoon—
the country of King Alcinous. At intervals, as we walked on through the cider-dreamy afternoon, thinking apples, smelling apples, munching apples, there came a mellow sound like soft thunder through the trees. It was the thunder of apples being poured into barrels, and, as in a sleep, the fragrant wagons passed and repassed along the road—“the slow-moving wagons of our lady of Eleusis.”
That line of Virgil came to me, as lines will sometimes come in fortunate moments, with the satisfaction of perfect fitness to the hour and the mood, gathering into one sacred, tear-filled phrase the deep sense that had been possessing me, as we passed the husbandmen busy with the various harvest, of the long antiquity of these haunted industries of the earth.
So long, so long, has man pursued these ancient tasks; so long ago was he urging the plowshare through the furrow, so long ago the sower went forth to sow; so long ago have there been barns and byres, granaries and threshing-floors, mills and vineyards; so long has there been milking of cows, and herding of sheep and swine. Can one see a field of wheat gathered into sheaves without thinking of the dream of Joseph, or be around a farm at lambing time without smiling to recall the cunning of Jacob? Already were all these things weary and old and romantic when Virgil wrote and admonished the husbandman of times and seasons, of plows and harrows, of mattocks and hurdles, and the mystical winnowing fan of Iacchus.
To the meditative, romantic mind, the farmer and plowman, standing thus in the foreground of the infinite perspective of time, take on a sacred significance, as of traditional ministers of the ancient mysteries of the earth.
Perhaps it is one’s involuntary sense of this haunted antiquity that gives its peculiar expressiveness to the solemn, almost religious quiet of barns and stables, the, so to say, prehistoric hush of brooding, sun-steeped rickyards; and gives, too, a homely, sacerdotal look to the implements and vessels of the farm. A churn or a cheese-press gives one the same deep, uncanny thrill of the terrible vista of time as Stonehenge itself; and from such implements, too, there seems to breathe a sigh—a sigh of the long travail and unbearable pathos of the race of men.
You will thus see the satisfaction, in moods of such meditation, of carrying in one’s knapsack a line from Virgil—“the slow-moving wagons of our Lady of Eleusis”—and I congratulated myself on my forethought in having included in our itinerant library a copy of Mr. Mackail’s beautiful translation of “The Georgics.” Walt Whitman, talking to one of his friends about his habit of carrying a book with him on his nature rambles, said that nine times out of ten he would never open the book, but that the tenth time he would need it very badly. So I needed “The Georgics” very badly that afternoon, and the hour would have lost much of its perfection had I not been able to take the book from my knapsack, and corroborate my mood, while Colin was sketching an old barn, by reading aloud from its consecrated pages: