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December 2007, vol 3 no 4

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Jeffrey Woodward

 

In Arcadia

I, too, would live gladly on honey and acorns, on what might be gathered freely from the groves: Hesiod, perhaps the first of many to inscribe a longing for that Golden Age, lamenting nearly three millennia ago man's fall from an earlier rustic perfection to the sophistication of a life of toil and care.

Never to know want, sickness or sorrow. Never to age but to die as if drowsily taken in sleep. To dwell in an eternal spring, to live in harmony with one's neighbor and with the land....

To the Renaissance, then, and to Sir Philip Sidney's poems of frolicking shepherds and shepherdesses and to the pastoral tableau of Nicolas Poussin:

et in Arcadia
ego
. . . with the windfall of
acorns from the grove

Who would not dwell gladly there in that Golden Age, even though this Arcadia of the poets were no more than the stuff of dreams? A venerable reverie already in Hesiod's day? Or a lullaby for the doddering?

Outside my first marital home, there in the yard, a centuries-old and stately oak. A wife and three kids in the background, a meditation upon a looming second mortgage and mounting debts.

Listening, in the summer, to jays and squirrels bickering in the upper branches. From a neighboring house, a domestic quarrel daily renewed.

Raking the October leaves into neat piles. Watching an autumn gust scatter the leaves, again. In the early evenings, alone with a book perhaps, only the low refrain of a chilly draft through the boards of the house.

acorns on the roof—
in the wind, a dry echo
of Arcadia