- Drive Your Plow


by Olga Tokarczuk

(December, 2019)

In the novel, we meet Janina Duszejko, a dog owner and retired teacher living in the Polish countryside. Janina's neighbours are a variety of strange existences. As well as being a creative and dedicated teacher of 10-year-old children, she also helps her former pupil 'Dizzy' with the almost impossible task of translating William Blake's poem into Polish. One of her peculiarities is that she gives names to things and people she meets - names she thinks are more appropriate than their names and titles; but her own given name, Janina, she would rather not use at all.

A series of strange deaths occur in this poetic crime story. Without giving spoilers away, this down-to-earth vegan character is also astrologically psychic, constantly observing almost magical, invisible signs of the times, which no one wants to think about, but which guide her through the stiff, stupid patriarchal world and its despised denial, which thinks she's more or less half mad.

William Blake's text "Proverbs of Hell" in his book "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell" (1793) is a remarkable parallel in Olga T's text:"In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy. Drive your cart and your plow over the bones of the dead. The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom. Prudence is a rich ugly old maid courted by Incapacity. He who desires but acts not, breeds pestilence. The cut worm forgives the plow. Dip him in the river who loves water. A fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees. He whose face gives no light, shall never become a star. Eternity is in love with the productions of time. The busy bee has no time for sorrow. The hours of folly are measur'd by the clock, but of wisdom: no clock can measure. All wholsom food is caught without a net or a trap. Bring out number weight & measure in a year of dearth. No bird soars too high, if he soars with his own wings. A dead body, revenges not injuries" (Blake).

This is an incredibly beautiful story.

Facsimile of a page from the William Blake book "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell"