Friday, September 16, 2005

The Farmer's Life in Poetry

Sometimes you find a description of the German homeland where you least expect it - in poetry, for instance.

I was given a book of poems by Ewald Meyer when I visited Irsch in 2002. It was a very special remembrance of my visit. I also brought home several local history books. I puzzled over the local histories and put the book of poems aside for when I had "more time." One morning as I was finishing my coffee, I picked up Hennerm Plou, the book of poems, to see if I could read any of it. What I found were word paintings of the lives of the farm families who lived near the Saar. They were so evocative I could almost smell the wet earth of the spring, feel the sweat of the summer on my face, taste the roasted potatoes fresh from the fire and hear the calling, calling of the frogs in the stream.

The book I was enjoying was written by Ernst Thrasolt, who was born Matthias Tressel in Beurig in 1878. He was the son of a farmer/ wine-grower/linen weaver. His mother came from a family of shoemakers. Tressel became a priest in 1904; and, after the death of his father, he changed his name to Ernst Thrasolt and began to write using that name, especially the poetry which reflected his love of the place of his birth and the memories of his youth. He also chose to write many of the poems in the Mosel Frankische dialect of the Trier region where he had grown up. Today, there are not many people who can read this dialect. The poems which I am summarizing have been translated into high German and reworked by Ewald Meyer. They are my prose interpretations (admittedly not expert) of poetry that pays tribute to the farmers who sowed, cultivated, harvested and loved the land near the Mosel and Saar.


Come with me to the wine hills - today the heavens are clear. Today you can see far. You see how the Saar foams so wild and white; and when you reach the very top of the wine hills, you still hear it rushing. You see the whole world that lies below. You see how the many fields lie next to each other. And you see the meadows that are already so green, the buttercups in bloom, and the trees blooming, blooming. The grain has already come up and the rape is gold. The first clover can soon be cut for the cattle. And it is always a fine thing to see the bed linens bleaching, almost shining, by the side of the stream. That is when the flax and the spinning and the weaving of that cloth come to mind.

Up here we bind the grape vines, and below us runs the plow. Between wine hill and plow, between furrow and vine, that is our way of life on our farms. And year in and year out all life and all nature go back and forth; spring and fall, summer and winter between wine hill and plow. With dung spreading, digging, planting, cutting, tying, binding up, and harvesting. With plow, sower, mower, sickle and plow, so must we all struggle and toil.

So long as the sun can be seen and the Saar can be heard rushing, this race of men would not exchange with king or emperor. Yes, when you are on the wine hill, you know what heaven and homeland is; what sun and Saar and the farming life is.


The potatoes did thrive and the sacks stand full and thick, one sack behind another dense throughout the whole field. And the children roast potatoes in the fire; an enormous flame, and they scrape the potatoes and hold them on the fire. The potatoes are so delicate and so white inside and so hot. They burn mouth and fingers. God be thanked, the potatoes did thrive!

And the sacks are tossed on the wagon; it takes a strong man to lift and to carry them. The thick smoke from the fire is so blue and comes so near that one person can hardly see another. All the furrows in the field are very red with evening light. And each face is red too and joyful, shining in the setting sun.

Listen, the time for the rosary is rung and the children run: they must go inside (the church). And leisurely and contented each wagon goes home with the blessing of God. From all sides they come, wagon after wagon. And everyone sits so tired and so contented at the top of them. It is late already and dark by the time the stall and cellar doors stand open and the soup is on the table and the children come storming home from the church.


Just smell! There is not a corner in the house that is not full of the marvelous scent. In stable and stall and kitchen and bedroom and cellar comes a scent of blessing over everything. For a hundred meters over field and meadow and wine hill and mountain and valley there is the smell of hay and its aftergrowth and of potatoes and carrots and apples and pears and grapes and nuts and newly made Viez (hard apple cider). And it is the scent of the meadow saffron and fall asters as well. And you are contented and the pigs and cow are contented too. The summer with its work went on and on but now comes rest. For nothing was our worry and misery; we are safe another year.


Doors and windows are closed all round. The cattle are fed: pigs and chickens, horse and cow too; now we have rest. Let us put our feet under the stove and praise God for winter. How good the warmth feels. Listen, only hear how the wind whistles outside. Is the ice already forming on the Saar?

And now the plans (for next year) can be made. Oats and barley and wheat will be in the Hasar*, potatoes go in Krangels* and in the Acht* and on the Font*. Clover is put once again in Schadall* where it grows so good...

The peace in the winter is very good for man and horse and cow so that they are not sick and weak when summer comes. Let us praise the Lord God on high for the winter.

*The names of the open fields where each farmer can plant his share of the land.


  1. This sounds like a lovely book and it was a great pleasure to read your interpretation of the passages. For those interested in the Mosel valley area, you may wish to read the extensive article about wines of the region in the current issue (Sept/Oct, I think) of SAVEUR magazine. Beware though -- it may lead to cravings. You may want to have some German wine on hand, at the ready, before you begin reading!

  2. What a beautiful words about a life full of simple rhythms and pleasures--thanks for sharing.