The following small, personal selection of poems and extracts are a tribute to the beauty of committed human work. Whether it be sewing or carpentry, web design, computer programming, mining, gardening, catering or trading. There is no end to human talent and no end to the quest to get whatever it is you are doing right. To begin with, I've chosen one of my favourite stanzas from my old master, Yeats, for you to enjoy -
Labour is blossoming or dancing where
The body is not bruised to pleasure soul,
Nor beauty born out of its own despair,
Nor blear-eyed wisdom out of midnight oil.
O chestnut-tree, great-rooted blossomer,
Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole?
O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
How can we know the dancer from the dance?
- from Among School Children by W.B.Yeats
Not bruised, not born of despair, not blear-eyed, but dancing and at one: that is when a human being can attain a wholeness that compares to the completeness in the life of a tree.
I've always loved Herman Charles Bosman's poem, Seed, which be-sings the integration of a farmer's body, mind and soul by means of the process of working -
The farmer ploughs into the ground
More than the wheat-seed strewn on the ground
The farmer ploughs into the ground
The plough and the oxen and his body
He ploughs into the ground the farmstead and the cattle
And the pigs and the poultry and the kitchen utensils
And the afternoon sunlight shining into the window panes of the voorhuis
And the light entangled in the eyes of the children
He ploughs into the ground his wife's brown body
And the windmill above the borehole
And the borehole and the wind driving the windmill.
The farmer ploughs the blue clouds into the ground;
And as a tribute to the holocaust of the ploughshare -
To the sowing that was the parting of the Juggernaut -
The earth renders the farmer in due season
- Herman Charles Bosman
The shock of not being able to work anymore, due to a stroke, and the frailty of illness and old age, hit my mother and my husband respectively very hard - both were people who had been hard-working, who grieved the loss of their capacities to do even menial chores. My husband's frailty loaded on me more than is usual, and taught me -
My fingertips -
from washing and rubbing -
rust in the whorls,
from scrubbing the pan, my back aches
from cleaning the floors,
my neck and shoulders are stiff
from sitting at the computer.
from peeling and coring the apples;
my underarms sweaty and fragrant
when your body
I think of my mother -
helpless after her stroke;
my husband so frail it's an effort to walk.
I shan't complain
about work, but give thanks
my body can.
- Silke Heiss
Norman [Morrissey, my late husband] often quoted the following line from one of his favourite books and authors, and his passion for their meaning engraved itself into me -
"[They] came and went without fear of necessity, working hard because of the life that was in them, not for want of the money."
- from The Rainbow by D.H. Lawrence
The great emphasis, with which Norman used to pronounce the phrase working hard because of the life that was in them leaps me straight to Maria Montessori's exploration of the human instinct to work -
"The most important discovery is that a child returns to a normal state through work. Countless experiments made upon children of every race throughout the world have shown that this is the most certain datum that we have in the field of psychology and education. A child's desire to work represents a vital instinct since he cannot organise his personality without working: a man builds himself through working. There can be no substitute for work, neither affection nor physical well-being can replace it. [...] A child's instinct for work is a proof that work is instinctive to man and characteristic of the species."
- from The Instinct to Work in The Secret of Childhood by Maria Montessori
None of the above eulogies and thoughts about work concern themselves with forced labour, or with ugly struggles between "deviated men" (in Montessori's words) who have "lost the proper motives for work".
Just about every human has it in them to do something well. Each human has something to offer, which will help in however small a way to serve the whole. I never believed those who told me it's only about filling my stomach: they were trying to reduce my spirit to a machine.
|Photo by Clark Young on Unsplash|