Sunday, January 20, 2013

Hoeing - John Updike

I sometimes fear the younger generation will be deprived
     of the pleasures of hoeing;
     there is no knowing
how many souls have been formed by this simple exercise.

The dry earth like a great scab breaks, revealing
     moist-dark loam-
     the pea-root's home,
a fertile wound perpetually healing.

How neatly the green weeds go under!
     The blade chops the earth new.
     Ignorant the wise boy who
has never performed this simple, stupid, and useful wonder.

Updike hits upon what is a problem for my generation;  we have been shamed away from manual labor.  Our parents, and our grandparents, with the best of intentions, wanted better lives for us, so that we would not have to toil in fields or factories, breaking our backs for a meager pay and harsh life.  However, today there is a shortage of skilled laborers.  The virtue of hard sweat and labor is being forgotten, and many people my age think that manual labor is beneath them.

I am glad that I did yardwork growing up.  It's not hoeing, but it's not nothing, and I think I understand some of what Updike means when he calls that manual labor of hoeing a "simple, stupid, and useful wonder."  Physical work is constructive, but apart from that, it is a great time for reflection.  It cultivates calm just as much as it may cultivate crops.  It feels good to sit down, wipe the sweat off of your dirty body, and rest for a while, knowing that your efforts have accomplished something.


  1. Perhaps I should say Angstrom’s awareness of the signs, or, to be a bit more accurate, Updike’s descriptions of Angstrom’s awareness of the signs, rather than the signs themselves. As the series progresses chronologically Angstrom grows more acutely aware of signs and their meanings and messages – by my rough count the signs and signage we come across break down as follows:

  2. Signs and signage – road signs, movie marquees, newspaper headlines real and imaginary, municipal signs, electronic message boards, storefronts, etc. – function as important indicators of the shifts, changes, and developments in Angstrom’s consciousness as he grows older throughout the decades chronicled in Updike’s ‘Rabbit’ series. Perhaps

  3. What are we to make of these appearances of signs in the novels? For one thing, Updike is obviously including them in these fictions as part of his desire to present real slices of life from late twentieth century American society – what it is/was like to live in this time, in this place