Ode to Scythes

This entry is part 15 of 31 in the series Odes to Tools



The scythes are emissaries
from a country
that no longer exists.
They have only each other
to converse with now
that their translator
the whetstone went off
& joined the knives.
They huddle together
in corners, nested esses
long in the tooth
but still as fluid
as the staff of Moses
at the exact moment
it shifted into an asp.
Do you remember,
they murmur, how
the crowds
would lose their heads
& stand like soldiers,
stiff, when the wind
moved through?

Series Navigation← Ode to a Measuring TapeOde to a Plane →

13 Replies to “Ode to Scythes”

  1. Not only am I getting a lesson in appreciation of ‘real’ poetry but my vocabulary gets expanded to boot. (grin)
    The scythe pic link will be valid unless someone on Craig’s list snaps it up.

    Sibilant Story

    To understand the imagery of scythes and the word ‘esses’
    I nearly went all loony here and pulled out all my tresses.
    The scythe my father used to cut the head off every weed
    Had handle straight and sickle blade shaped less like ‘ s’ (more ‘c’d)
    At last I found a sickle with a double curvy esse
    Connecting rod/snake imagery no longer is a guess.
    So thank you Dave for lovely poem. As usual it’s a keeper,
    And not that grim for one involving tool of the Grim Reaper.


  2. There you go again, implying that light verse is less “real” than the more serious lyrical poems I write. But whatever – I’m glad you’re liking it, and sorry that my imagery threw you for a loop. We have three old scythes and one hay cradle, if you know what that is, and they all have S-shaped shafts. I thought about including a photo with the poem, and now your comment makes me think I should definitely add one. It’s dark and rainy today, but I’ll see what I can do this afternoon.

    Thanks so much for your thoughtful, playful engagement with these poems. This is the kind of response that makes blogging poetry so much more satisfying than sending it off to literary journals.

  3. We in St. Louis area are also having days of gloom and red noses. It’s dark and rainy. A good day to think of sun and ripe wheat rows. No, I do not know of hay cradles, but thanks to Google, I will soon. You are too kind, as usual. As for your own verse, it deserves both the instant grats of blogdom plus some serious and well-deserved remuneration from publishing.

  4. O.K., photo added. (The cradle wouldn’t have fit into the shot. Basically, it’s a scythe with with several additional wooden fingers parallel to the blade, to catch the grass as it’s cut and lay it out nice and neat.)

    instant grats of blogdom
    Yep, you got our number!

    remuneration from publishing
    Oh wait, were you being serious?

  5. From they huddle together in corners this is absolutely brilliant, that staff of Moses image, how I wish I’d come up with it. Wonderful. Oh I love this editing option, I can come back and say ps I really enjoyed Joan’s sibilance and your remark about blogging: yes!

  6. What a gorgeous poem. Wouldn’t you just love to be able to use a scythe properly? They can only converse now, but I think they used to dance.

  7. Thanks, all.

    Johemmant – I appreciate the feedback on the editing function (and glad you liked the poem).

    Aareet – I’m glad you said that, because deciding where to put in the line breaks is always a struggle for me. Thanks for stopping by.

    sarah b – Yes, indeed. Actually, I did whack at the grass a bit with one of those scythes in the photo when I was a kid, but I don’t think I ever got the blade quite sharp enough. That’s the key to the whole enterprise. Mowers used to carry a whetstone in their pocket and run it over the blade at the end of every row, or so I understand it.

  8. Wow, Dave, this one really sings. (I wonder how many of your readers know what it feels like to wield a scythe?) The staff of Moses image was a startling surprise – brilliant – and the last image and snippet of conversation made me sit back and just breathe out. A very finely wrought poem.

  9. Dave–

    Thanks for the lines. In the rubble of an ancient, struggling post and beam barn on a farm I just bought, I found an ancient snath. Where the original blade is I will probably never know.

    The new blade fits well, and seemed to instantly rejuvenate the agricultural sculpture. I used it for the first time today, and despite a certain novice awkwardness, I sense that I may never use a gas mower again. I don’t know if I can hay the eight-acre field with it, but I may try next year.

    After about an hour, it felt like meditation in movement. I encourage you to try it again. Something about the swishing through the grass, the absence of internal combustion makes me feel that the wood and metal grounds me in a way 8-horse-power cowboys will never know.

  10. mongrel – Thanks for stopping by and leaving such a great couple of comments! That video does make scything look pretty attractive. Good luck with your own scything, but remember to wait as late in the season to cut hay as you can, so as not to interfere with the breeding success of grassland birds, most of which are in steep decline in the U.S. as a result of more intensive farming practices over the last few decades. We need to slow down for MANY reasons!

    Horses are part of the solution, too, I think. They run on biofuel, after all. The old McCormick Reapers might be coming back into fashion soon…

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