Wheat by Jean Jaurès
Is man not the one who created wheat?
For, what we call natural is hardly so—those things used by him—are far from spontaneous creations. Nor wheat, nor wine existed before man, the unknown genius, who selected and nurtured some few grains, some wild strain of grape.
Man is the one who rescued from obscurity some forlorn grain in the prairie winds, the future treasure of the durum. Man is the one who caused the patient sap to condense its sweetness in the germ, to grow the grape, the source of a divine elixir. Yet today men, ever forgetful, confuse what one calls natural wine and artificial wine, the artful combinations of nature’s chemistry. There is no natural wine.
Wine and bread are the fruits of man’s genius. Nature herself is crafted with man’s artifice. So Sully-Prudhomme outdid the sun in brightness with his verse.
The sun, father of all grains, the fathers of each race!
The sun and earth in communion had yet to craft the perfect wheat. They required man’s intervention, his discerning patience and steady mind. The ancients knew so much as they celebrated the vine and golden grain, wrought by God-like man.
But since many a long year, peasants have watched harvest follow upon harvest, the wheat be drawn from each grain; man’s creation so well hidden, so abundant in the teeming fields and rolling hillsides, that by tradition, they praise the work of nature, and overlook the divine artisan.
And how to conceive, without drawing from the vast wells of our mind, to think those great seas and rolling waves of wheat, for thousands of years ebbing and flowing across the seasons, sleeping in the golden warmth of June, and finding new life in the green fronds of March, swelling into a golden flood—how to imagine that this great sea draws its source from the humble well of human thought?
Translation © David B. Gosselin
Jean Jaurès was the leader of the French Socialist Party. Having been assassinated on July 31st 1914, before any shells were fired, Jaurès is known as one of the first victims of WWI. Embodying the kind of true courageous optimism typified by real leadership, his idea of the true nature of man shines through in this magnificent prose poem.