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Crandall – The Farmer-Poet

By Edward F. Bigelow, ArcAdiA: Sound Beach, Connecticut.

Guide to Nature Magazine, Vol. VII. July 1914. No. 2.

letter box 'E'


VERY farmer should be a poet. Every farmer to a certain extent is a poet, although he may not realize the fact. With many that extent is limited. It is a question of degree, but any one that loves nature sufficiently well to abandon the crowded haunts of man for the seclusion of a farm in the distant country, there to deal directly with Mother Nature, has in his heart the germ at least of the true poetic instinct. This, to a limited degree, is true of any occupation in life. There is poetry in every form of activity, as there is in every spoken word, although one must sometimes search long and faithfully to find it. One may be a poet without writing poetry. Few have the power of poetical expression, but every man that likes to live with the trees and the birds and that likes to plow, likes to see the sun rise, and likes to drive the cows to pasture, is a poet. So is he that takes shellfish out of the sea, or pounds iron on the anvil, or sells ribbon or pills or harrows. It is doubtful if there can be found in all the world a human being so sordid, so utterly utilitarian as not sometimes to have uplifting thoughts, some appreciation of the beauty of living and of acting and struggling faithfully in life's contests. This is a world of specialization. Comparatively few supply the things that everybody uses. This is as true of poetry as of everything else. We all may speak poetry and live poetry, but it remains for the specialist in versification arid in rhythm to put into transmittible shape the thoughts that are common to humanity. If there were no users of plows and pills and ribbons, plows, pills and ribbons would not be supplied. If there were no lovers of nature this magazine would not be needed, If there were no people that desire to know about other people's doings and the events in human progress, newspapers would not be needed. Editors and publishers are comparatively few although everybody likes to read the newspapers. Although everybody directly or indirectly depends upon the blacksmith, comparatively few stand by the glowing forge. Such thoughts were in my mind as I made an appointment to go northward from Stamford to visit Idylland. It was a journey to the home of one that not only lives amid beautiful surroundings, that knows the delight of chopping wood, of holding the plow, and of seeing green things grow, but one that can in well written lines transmit some of that joy to others.

“My sturdy team goes swiftly round
And swiftly turns the fragrant ground.”

Mr. Charles H. Crandall is a poet pre-eminently of the farm, though he has written upon other topics. To him the field, the forest, the sky and the streams, mean more than the place in which he raises his crops, gathers nuts or hews firewood, although he is engaged in all these interesting occupations as well as in other diversified pursuits characteristic of the New England farm.

You'd like to hold the plow awhile?
“You'd like to hold the plow awhile? All right, sir. I am willin’.”
—From “Plowing.”

He lives near to nature. I wish that I could write in glowing terms of his interest in nature study, but I cannot. I wish that he were a naturalist, but strictly speaking he is not. He is a farmer and farmer-poet; he appreciates the delights of his occupation, he transmits his pleasure in it to humanity, and he interests humanity in it, but for the details of nature, as the naturalist sees them, he has no special affection. I doubt if, when he looks at a pine tree or an oak tree or an apple tree, he can describe any of the details of xylem, phloem, of cambium layer, or of stomata, but he does see in the pine tree, the oak tree and the apple tree, something perhaps more important. He sees human life exemplified and he sees various kinds of people with their characteristics and diversified occupations symbolized by the trees. It is for the farmer to be strong like the oak. It is for the pine to seem graceful and cultured and refined, but it is for the apple tree to scatter fruit for all the people. When Mr. Crandall looks at those trees he writes not of their scientific structure, nor of their physiological functions, but of what they mean to humanity. Witness his poem, “Three Trees.”

Three Trees
The pine-tree grew in the wood—
    Tapering straight and high;
Stately and proud it stood,
    Dark-green against the sky,
Crowded so close it sought the blue
And ever upward it reached and grew.

The oak-tree stood in the field,
    Beneath it dozed the herds;
It gave to the mower a shield,
    It gave a home to the birds.
Sturdy and broad, it watched the farms—
Its knotted boughs like the mower's arms.

The apple-tree grew by the wall—
    Ugly and crooked and black;
But it heard the gardener's call
    And the children rode on its back.
It donned in the Spring a sweet, white cap,
And dropped its treasures in Autumn's lap.

“Now, hey,” said the pine, for the wood!
   “Come, live with the forest band.
My comrades will do you good,
    And tall and straight you will stand.”
So he mocked the wind with merry shout
And threw his cones like coin about.

“Oh, oh,” laughed the sturdy oak,
    “The life of the field for me!
I challenge the lightning stroke,
    My branches are broad and free.
Grow tall and slim in the wood if you will.
Give me the sun and a wind-swept hill.”

And the apple-tree murmured low:
    “I am neither straight nor strong;
Crooked my back doth grow
    With bearing its burdens long.”
But it dropped its fruit as it dropped a tear,
And reddened the ground with goodly cheer.

And the Lord of the Harvest heard,
And He said: “I have need for all,
For the bough that shelters a bird,
For the beam that pillars a hall;
And grow they straight, or grow they ill,
They grow but to wait their Master's will.”

So a ship of the oak was sent
    Far over the waters blue;
And the pine was the mast that bent
    As over the waves it flew;
And the ruddy-fruit of the apple-tree
Was sent to a starving isle of the sea.

Now the farmer is strong like the oak,
    And the townsman is proud and tall,
And city and field; are full of folk,
    But the Lord has need of all;
And who will be like the apple-tree
That fed the starving isle of the sea?


When Mr. Crandall early in the morning goes forth to his field, he never stops to pick a bit of moss from the wayside to examine it with the microscope. He looks toward the rising sun and hears the robin's call, and to him they say, “Go to work.” He sees the plow motionless in the furrow, the glowing colors of the morning sky, he hears the music of the falling meadow bars, and they all speak to him of happiness. He thinks of the day's work.

My steeds go stepping down the lane.
“My steeds go stepping down the lane.
How glad they reach the water-trough!”

The swift flight of the birds tells him that he too must be busy until the twilight falls, when again the meadow bars shall fall as the cows come home from the pasture. What glorious music it is to him! How different from the flight of the birds, for hearing some one say, “Come, Love, there is no more work to do.” Such are the thoughts that arise in his soul, and urge him onward toward the day's duties, and enable him to appreciate the rest that will follow. It is his peculiar talent to transmit that feeling for the day's work and the night's rest, to thousands that toil in the fields. Where is the farmer that will not appreciate his poem that he calls “The Happy Farmer?”

The Happy Farmer.
O'er mountain peaks the morning breaks,
The robin at my window wakes,
And calls me now to guide the plow
Down where the waving willows bow.
My sturdy team goes swiftly round
And swiftly turns the fragrant ground,
While breezes blow and grasses grow,
And birds of passage northward go.
       Fly on, swift birds, across the land!
       And blow, ye winds, from strand to strand!
       For well I know, where'er ye go,
       Ye see no happier man below,
       For my heart is light and my love is true
       And the day is full of work to do!
The plow is still and blushes fill
The heavens o'er the western hill,
As homeward now, with tossing mane,
My steeds go stepping down the lane.
How glad they reach the water-trough!
And grateful now, with harness off,
They follow to the pasture ground,
And break away with playful bound.
       Now softly fall the meadow bars,
       And silently steal out the stars,
       And as I watch the splendid night
       I hear a footstep falling light,
       And some one saying, sweet and true,
       “Come, love, there's no more work to do!”

Speaking of the farmer's rest will remind those that have toiled with the plow or with the scythe, of the strenuous life that the farmer leads. It is everyday toil, delightful toil, it is true, but despite the fancies of the poet, and the alluring misrepresentations of the people so enthusiastic over the enchantments of the soil, it still remains toil, nothing but toil if one can see in it only the toil. But to the farmer the toil itself is a joy. He would not desert his occupation for the frivolities and artificialities of the city, but he does appreciate the rest that comes at the end of his honest labor. How different is an active city man's rest from that of the farmer! Ten hours, twelve hours in his city office; the work drives him. When his time for rest arrives, he dashes away in his automobile, and with his family goes whirring through the country with the same rush, the same dash, the same spirit that have inspired him all day long in that city office. But that is no rest for the farmer. He thinks of the fisherman as enjoying the ideal rest, as he plods in the furrow behind the plow, or swings the scythe in the scorching field, he thinks, “Could I but sit in the tear of a boat on a placid sea and fish, and fish; and fish, even if I never caught a fish !” As he swings the axe and thinks of the fisherman that pulls the oars, he says, “Could I but stop for a time this swinging as he can stop that pulling!” And there you will discover the germ of one of the finest poems that Mr. Crandall ever wrote, “Lean on Your Oars and Rest Awhile.”

Lean on Your Oars and Rest Awhile.
Lean on your oars and rest awhile—
This is the sweetest part of the stream—
Shadowy branches over the aisle
Lure us to linger, list, and dream.
While the wings in the verdure gleam,
Dream and drift the rest of the mile;
Under the thrushes, over the bream,
Lean on your oars and rest awhile.

Think of the old days under the trees—
All the murmurs and music of May—
And mating robins and booming bees,
The big blue roof all over the day.
Oh, it is well to go back and think
Of the dear mother, and see her smile
The old sweet way, the while you drink
Deep of her love, and rest awhile.

For while you lie and drift and rest—
This, the sweetest part of the stream—
Faces of all you have loved the best
Softly shall move within your dream.
Life is-to love; and loving is life;
Dropping the world and its petty guile,
Learn the lesson, and, far from strife,
Lie on your oars and rest awhile.

C. H. C.     


When the day is done, the farmer takes his pipe and under the shade of the trees he thinks and thinks of the former days under the trees, when as a boy, he played amid the murmur of the leaves, the music of May, and heard half unconsciously the robins' song amid the gentle murmur of the homing bees. The remembrance of these comes now like the loving caresses of a mother gone long ago. Then his mind wanders to those days when, as a farmer boy, he looked toward the time when he might go fishing, when the toil of stirring hay should give place to the drifting of a boat. That skiff floats on the sweetest part of life's stream. There he leans on his oars, and rests awhile.



A lady recently came to ArcAdiA and said that she wanted to study the birds. She had come from a distant state, because she had heard that the ornithology of this part of Connecticut shore birds and land birds in great numbers. She wanted to add to her list. She had “checked up” one hundred and thirty-five in the previous year. “Done what?” I said. “Checked up,” she repeated, “don't you know what that means?” Yes, alas! I do. It means that the birds meant little to you if checking up is the whole thing. Being required to learn the names and so as to identify a dozen trees, does not mean much, alas! not much. But to have a tree give you new life when you are tired of the foolishness of the metropolis, tired of the pavement, then the tree will mean something to you. Not a matter of identification, not a matter even of learning scientific details. One partridge that sits watching you unafraid means more than a hundred and thirty-five that you have checked up. When I walked through the ravine with Mr. Crandall, a commonplace chewink called and Mr. Crandall asked me, “What is the name of that bird?” He saw the spring flowers in bloom and the common saxifrage, and wanted to know the names. Our farmer-poet has gone deeper than names and “checking up.” The things of the forest have meant more to him. Over the green leaf on the tree top he has soared to distant stars and nebulae. To learn more than their names “he questioned the universe,” and the answer brought him, not mere knowledge and pastime, but help and trust and joy. We commend to our readers his delightful poem, “The Forest Cure.”

The Forest Cure.
A-weary of burrowing,
Tired of the town,
The shadows of palaces
Weighted me down;
The smell of the gutters
Slow-poisoned my breath,
Each wheel on the pavement,
Seemed coupled to Death.

I questioned the universe,
Begged for a clue;
“Up, up,” spoke the green world
And “Hope,” said the blue.
“Take time as I take it,”
The gray boulder spoke,
And “wait,” said the acorn,
And “trust,” said the oak.

I stole to the forest—
I silently prayed—
The partridge sat watching,
And called, unafraid.
The vestals of Springtime
Went tip-toeing by;
‘Twas birthtime in Nature—
But soft as a sigh.

Green leaf on the treetop—
Brown leaf in its bed—
One, glad it was living—
One, glad it was dead!
“Grow,” whispered the rootlet;
“Smile,” echoed the flower;
“Joy,” rippled the brooklet,
“If only an hour.”

The partridge sat watching
“The partridge sat watching,
And called, unafraid.”

“As out of the soil we lift this sign.”

But here near his home where everybody knows him and loves his verses, how vain it is for me even to attempt to analyze Charles H. Crandall's

poetry. It is poetry, not to be dissected but to be left as nature is to him around his home. He has seen and described the beauty of the commonplace.

Our readers will recollect that several months ago a potato in the form of a heart came to this office. It was sent by a kind friend who had welcomed it as an emblem of a heart hidden in the bosom of Mother Earth. In that conventionalized form it represented the fruition of a new life, a resurrection of a life that had vanished. Most of us would have seen only an oddly formed potato. Farmer Crandall looked beyond the mere vegetable to the thought and uplift and encouragement that that odd form inspired. Here is what he saw:

“Heart's Love Remains.”
by Charles H. Crandall, Idylland, Stamford, Connecticut.

We buried a Heart in the mother mold,
A Heart that was silent, still and cold,
And we went about in our saddened round,
Trying to smile as we tilled the ground,

Dropping the seed in the fruitful earth,
Praying, with faith, for the timely birth
Of flower and fruitage to greet our eyes—
But Oh, that Heart we buried with sighs!
Of the flower and harvest we feel so sure!
But what of that Heart? Shall it endure?

Blade and leaf and blossom have come,
Frost the garden will soon benumb,
Faith is faltering; promises weak;
But still the earth has a word to speak.
Bringing the promise again to mind:
“Hearts may be dust, hearts' loves remain;
Hearts' love shall greet us yet again.”

Mr. Crandall is successful as a farmer. He “tickles the earth with a hoe and it laughs with a harvest” for him. The earth gives him a good living, in the popular phrase. But in his poetry of life, he has raised it greater and better harvest, and for a greater number of consumers. He tries to keep people young. The following words of encouragement are taken as a salutation from the preface to his book of poems. Let us that love nature poetically as well as scientifically, listen to them as to a benediction.

“If you are one who would not sell, at a price, the poetry of life; if you love a stroll over the autumn hills at chestnut-time; if you enjoy buffeting a winter storm; If you have the heart of the boy or girl that thrills with joy at the sight of the first violets, or the sound of the first blue birds, I am sure we shall agree to drop all books whenever we are hungry for Natures own poetry of the great Out-of-Doors.

But when the mood comes for a book and a cosy nook by the fire-place, then if you should grant a hearing to my lines, and find entertainment, I fancy my own fire will glow the brighter--and I shall say to myself: ‘Some one is reading “Songs from Sky Meadows.”’”

A Biographical Sketch.

Greenwich, New York, a beautiful village among the hills of Washington County, a region of lovely lakes and rushing rivers, was the birthplace of Charles H. Crandall. It was in 1858, but he child never forgot many impressions of the Civil War period. Education was first sought in a typical red country schoolhouse. A few years of graded schools in Greenwich and Brooklyn, and the boy was passed on to mercantile life in New York, and subsequently to five years active service on “The New York Tribune,” in reporter's, correspondent's and editorial positions. This experience Mr. Crandall calls his university education. Besides his work on the “Tribune,” Mr. Crandall has contributed poems, prose sketches of rural life and nature to the “Century,” “Harper's,” “Atlantic Monthly,” “Outlook,” “Independent,” “Critic,v “Lippincott's,” “North American Review,” “Outing,” and many other periodicals. His books comprise “Representative Sonnets by American Poets” (Houghton Mifflin & Company), “Wayside Music,” “The Chords of Life,” and “Songs from Sky Meadows,” the latter embodying a name that he gave to a hilltop farm at North Stamford; now owned by Henry Miller, the actor. Mr. Crandall was once tendered an editorial position on the “Century” magazine, but he decided against it, owing to the necessary confinement to a desk, Indeed he was forced to the country in 1886 to conserve his health. To a lover of nature the strenuous life of a farmer has its silver lining, and meanwhile the farmer author has found time to labor a lot for town betterment in many lines. He thinks the poem, “Lincoln,” read before the Stamford Historical Society last winter, may be the best thing he ever wrote though he has a liking for “The Faith of the Trees,” “Stamford Highlands” and many shorter lyrics in which he has aimed at the unattainable perfection in “what is not only genius but art.” Many of Mr. Crandall's poems have been put in anthologies, and not a few set to music, while his gift has been recognized by critics like Stedman, Van Dyke and Gilder. His rooms are adorned with framed illustrations of his poems taken from many magazines, and to these he confesses he repairs when he gets discouraged, as we all do. That his hundreds of poems have reached many millions of readers is a pleasant thought for him and his friends.

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Read about the later fate of the property in The Guide to Nature, July, 1914 : Poetry Prefaced Peaches

Record Group RG-6: Charles Henry Crandall
List of Poems and Essays in Papers of Charles H. Crandall
Davenport Exhibit: Charles Henry Crandall 1858–1923