Mennonite Poetry Home | Larry Nightingale



Rev. Abram Nachtigal's hop picking time Mennonite existential blues

         A translation from my grandfather's mid-1930s Im Hopfenernte

Grey dawn settles over Yarrow town
the fog lifts from the mountain
the women are already hurrying about the farm yards
the men too — on the run.
Milk cows have already given
roosters have crowed themselves hoarse
everywhere in everything can be seen how life turns
in the big circumstance — cogs in the wheel.

     Children step sleepily out of beds
     infants are disturbed from sweet slumber
     oh, this life — a long hard trial
     that all, inwardly, are indignant of.
     The little calf also, is tied on a halter
     where a water bucket is set
     "my little yearling, if you can, make the most of your time
     as it is all too soon but bullish in this world!"

Hard-worn hands are packing cold lunches in the kitchens
because stomachs will feel empty by noon
oh from where, in the end, does the dear Lord God find
enough for so many?
The worms too want to gnaw
is there a green hop-leaf for each and every one?
So in our worries and concerns of our human lot
we're anxious and ask, even when harvest is full.

     For a human being lives not but for today
     but wants to know what tomorrow holds
     therefore all this restless striving and all this sacrifice
     therefore all the nights robbed of sleep
     therefore all the calloused, blistered hands
     stretched out toward elusive prosperity
     for yet another tired turn
     oh what has not been tried!

All the thin figures standing alongside the road through town
all with their trouble and their need
awaiting transport — the big truck — the dusty old fire-wagon
that will bring them to the fields
with baskets and boxes and buckets — all types
all what can possibly be carried.
all are bound for the hop-yards,
yes all, all, can come along on this ride.

     What a sight in the hop-yards!
     A colourful motley crew
     of Black men, Hindus,
     long-bearded Arabs as well
     and our grey-haired grandmothers, old senile grandfathers
     mothers with babes at breast
     and all the child labourers — already experienced
     labouring on — picking with resolve and intent.

From among the wishful and prayerful is heard soft singing
(little Ann sings soprano, the tenor is young Mary)
to this, one pauses to listen willingly
to the oscillations of a soulful, heartfelt melody.
Oh, so homesick, I brushed aside my tears.
Out there in those endless yards
it filled my heart with yearning.
Bless you dear little singers — God bless you all.

© Larry Nightingale




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