It is nightfall, and the sky is cloudy save where the last rays of the setting sun illumine a spot on the horizon. While the light lasts, the Sower still holds to his task of sowing the seed. A large sack of grain is fastened about his body and hangs at his left side, where one end of it is grasped firmly in the left hand lest any of the precious seed be spilled. Into this bag he plunges his right hand from time to time, and draws out a handful of grain which he flings into the furrow as he walks along.
The Sower’s task ended, a series of strange transformations begins in the life of the seed. The winter rain softens and swells it, and when spring comes it pushes its way up in a tiny shoot. Soon the slender blades appear in close lines; by and by the stalks grow tall and strong, and the field is full of the beautiful green grain.
Then the hot summer sun shines with ripening power; the wheat turns a golden yellow; the ears bend under the weight of the grain, and it is time for the harvest. The reapers come with sickle and scythe, and the grain is cut, and bound into great sheaves. The thrashing follows, when the ear is shaken off the stalk, and the grain is winnowed. And now the mills take up the work, the golden wheat grains are crushed, and the fine white flour which they contain is sifted and put into bags. The flour is mixed and kneaded and baked, and at length comes forth from the oven a fragrant loaf of bread.
Now bread is a necessity of life to the people, and the supply of bread turns on the history of the seed. If the harvest is plenty, the people may eat and be happy. If it is poor, they suffer the miseries of hunger. If it fails altogether, they die of starvation. It is then a solemn moment when the seed is planted. Often the sower begins his task by tossing a handful of grain into the air in the sign of a cross, offering a prayer for a blessing on the seed. His is a grave responsibility; every handful of seed means many loaves of bread for hungry mouths. He must choose the right kind of seed for his soil, the right kind of weather for the planting, and use the grain neither too lavishly nor too sparingly.
[Illustration: From a carbon print by Braun, Clement & Co. John Andrew & Son, Sc. THE SOWER]
This is why the Sower in our picture takes his task so seriously. He carries in his hand the key to prosperity. He is a true king. Peasant though he is, he feels the dignity of his calling, and bears himself royally. He advances with a long swinging stride, measuring his steps rhythmically as if beating time to inaudible music. His right arm moves to and fro, swinging from the shoulder as on a pivot, and describing the arc of a circle.
The hilly field in which he works is such as the painter Millet was familiar with in his peasant childhood in Normandy. A yoke of oxen are drawing the plough in the distance, as is the custom in that province. The Sower himself is a true Norman peasant.