Introduction

This is an occasional poem written by Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. for an anniversary of the Berkshire Agricultural Society. He praises the toil of a ploughman who is the first to be on the field and the last to leave. Describes the ploughing process.

About the poet

Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. (1809–94) was an American physician, poet, professor, lecturer, and author based in Boston. A member of the Fireside Poets, his peers acclaimed him as one of the best writers of the day. His most famous prose works are the Breakfast-Table series, which began with The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table. He was also an important medical reformer.

 Theme

The poem is about the importance of farming. Farming is a key to the existence of living beings on earth and consumption is directly dependent on the production of farming. The importance of farming is not just for the existence of human beings, but also to safeguard the wildlife on earth. It has been an economic opportunity as well as physical activity for people.

Stanza 1

These are the hands whose sturdy labour brings.
The peasant’s food, the golden pomp of kings;
This is the page whose letters shall be seen,
Changed by the sun to words of living green;

In the first stanza, the poet says about the hard work of farmers. Their labour brings everyone’s food even if it is a farmer’s food to the king’s royal food. Farmers bring food to everyone without any discrimination through their hard work on the land. In the third line, the poet mentions ‘a page’. Here page represents soil or land where farmers work. ‘The letters ‘ on the page mean the seed that is sowed by the farmers. That seeds will be changed into living green by the sun.

Stanza 2

This is the scholar whose immortal pen
Spells the first lesson hunger taught to men;
These are the lines that heaven-commanded Toil,
Shows on his deed, - the charter of the soil!

In the second stanza, the poet pictures the farmer as a scholar and the spade in an immortal pen. This spade taught men his first lesson named hunger. Hardworking is something that is commanded by God from heaven. Here poet says that toil is a heavenly order. Farmer is literally showing this command on his deed in the charter of the soil to bring food to everyone here.