In “Haymaking”, by William Carlos Williams, Williams portrays the lives of haymakers as they distance themselves from the modernizing society far off in the background of the painting. He demonstrates how their lives are unchanged as they remain close to nature, through short, three lined stanzas with little punctuation and simplicity of word choice. “Haymaking” ties in with Williams’ other poems regarding Brueghel’s paintings, which stress sustenance off of nature and display the lives of humans as they transition into modernism.
In the first three lines of the poem, the speaker states that “The living quality of/the man’s mind/stands out”(1-3). He suggests that the peasant’s way of thinking differs perhaps from the outlying society in the background. Williams describes this quality of thinking as “living”, demonstrating that the peasants will continue thinking this way until their minds cease to exist. The minds of the peasants make “covert assertions for art, art, art!”(4-5), as they declare their art of haymaking and way of life positively, however, in secrecy and concealment. Williams stresses the significance of the word art through repetition and usage of exclamatory punctuation. This magnifies the peasants’ love of their way of life in haymaking, as Williams only uses punctuation one time throughout the entire poem.
Lines six to ten coincide with the mention of art in lines four to five. The peasant’s art of haymaking is represented as a “painting//that the Renaissance/tried to absorb”(6-8). The Renaissance, a time when medieval life transitioned into Modernism, did not integrate the art of haymaking into itself. Thus, the rural area where the peasants worked and lived did not change and “remained a wheat field/over which the wind played”(10-12), as opposed to the society in the background which modernized. Williams personifies the wind to show how nature communicates with the peasants. He also shows how the peasants respond to nature, as “men with scythes tumbl[e]/the wheat in/rows”(13-15). The peasants and nature have a close and familiar relationship, as if between humans. The words Williams chooses, playful and tumble, signify a physical relationship between the peasants and nature. There exists a certain understanding, closeness, intertwining between the peasants and nature, where the peasants’ lives seem carefree and relaxed, as nature interacts so peacefully with them.
In lines seventeen to twenty-one, Williams continues to display the closeness between the peasants and nature, while describing the peasant’s refusal to leave the sustenance that nature provides. The strong bond that the peasants possess with nature is shown, as “[nature] was [their] own-/magpies//the patient horses no one/could take that/from [them]”(17-21). Williams suggests that the peasants felt that nature belonged to them, and perhaps no one else. Nature provides the peasants with fields for their haymaking, and animals to assist them. The peasants try to keep what they currently have that is affiliated with nature. They to continue living their current lifestyle, and do not want to be thieved of their possessions.
Williams interprets Brueghel’s painting very deeply and uniquely. Through his simple, yet infinitely complex poem, humans are shown with a certain relationship with nature that is beautiful. The isolated peasants with their task and art of haymaking understand nature far more deeply than the society portrayed in the background. It seems as if nothing could separate the peasants from their coexistence with nature, be it society or even time.